The August unemployment rate in the U.S. was 5.1 percent—the lowest it's been in seven years. This compares to last month's 5.3 percent and a forecast of 5.2 percent.
The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of people unemployed by the number in the labor force. Recently, analysts have tended to emphasize other measures of unemployment and employment more than the unemployment rate.
If the unemployed quit seeking a job through discouragement, retirement or disablement, they are no longer considered to be officially unemployed or part of the labor force and the unemployment rate will drop. The number of people not in the labor force has grown by more than 10 million since the end of the last recession and more than 15 million over the last 10 years.
If some of these people were included, the official unemployment rate would be much higher. The proportion of the working age population who are either working or looking for work was unchanged in August at 62.6 percent—a 38-year low.
August employment was not nearly as positive as the reported unemployment rate. The month-to-month change in non-farm employment was reported to be 173,000, compared to 215,000 the previous month and 223,000 expected. The report revised July unemployment from 215,000 to 245,000, but the Dow Jones Industrial average still dropped by 272 points, or 1.66 percent, by the end of the report day.
To accurately analyze economic reports, we need to selectively filter the information. We need to divide the information into nuggets which are relevant and irrelevant, important and unimportant, those that are indicative of just random noise or short-run and long-run trends.
We also need relevant information to manage our ministries, churches and lives. If we want to change something, we need to measure it. To lose weight, we need to periodically weigh and measure the calories we consume and expend. To gain control of our finances, we need to understand the flows of the money in and out.
We may think we are committed to missions and evangelistic outreaches, but what do the numbers show? What are the trends in attendance? If our attendance is growing or diminishing, do we know why? Are there things we could do to understand, predict and even change trends?
The Lord has given us a vision, purpose and calling for our ministry. How are we doing? What are we doing right? What needs to be improved or eliminated? Are we wasting time, resources and support among our congregants unnecessarily? Are we doing things because of vision, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, tradition or pressure? How can information help us? How can we move forward on vision in a way that reflects the urgency of our last-day ministry?
Like an economist analyzing an economic report, we need to selectively filter information. We need to divide it into the relevant and irrelevant, important and unimportant, random noise and what is indicative of short-run and long-run trends. But as members of the kingdom, we also need to decide if it is what our King wants, if is it part of the vision He has given us and if it has the witness of the Holy Spirit.
"Brothers, I do not count myself to have attained, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead" (Phil. 3:13).
Dr. James R. Russell is professor of economics and chair of the Undergraduate College of Business at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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