Some statistics cannot be understood without setting them within a political framework because they reflect politics as much as or more than they do reality.
The unemployment rate is an example and a cautionary tale.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the official unemployment rate for last February fell to a four-year national low of 7.7 percent. While the White House cautiously congratulated itself, Republicans quickly pointed to what is often called the real unemployment rate; it stood at 14.3 percent.
The BLS looks at six categories of different data, from U-1 to U-6, to analyze employment every month. U-3 includes people who have been unemployed but who have actively looked for work during the past month; this is the official unemployment rate used by the media. U-6 contains data excluded from U-3, including part-time workers and the unemployed who have unsuccessfully looked for a job in the last year; this is the real unemployment rate.
Those politicians who want to take credit for lower unemployment thrust U-3 figures forward. Those who wish to deny them credit prefer U-6.
But matters may even be worse.
Now there is fresh reason to believe that even the 14.3 percent rate may be a considerable understatement.