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During an exchange with a reporter at Monday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not want to settle on what the unemployment rate was.
Spicer was asked point-blank, “What is the national unemployment rate?”
He responded by saying there are “several versions” put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The press secretary later said that President Donald Trump “sees people that are hurting,” and that “it’s not just a number” to him. He said the president is “not focused on statistics,” but “if people are doing better off.”
“I think that’s where his head is at,” he said, adding that previously “it’s been about what number we’re looking at instead of what face we’re looking at.”
The BLS classifies people as unemployed if they do not have a job, are available to work, and have sought jobs within the past month. It does not count retirees, students, caretakers, and people who are not seeking work as part of the labor force, from which the unemployment rate is calculated.
For December, the unemployment rate was 4.7%. The labor force participation rate was 62.7%.
Trump has doubted the validity of the unemployment rate, saying at an Iowa rally in early December that it is “totally fiction.”
“If you look for a job for six months and then you give up, they consider you give up,” he said. “You just give up. You go home. You say, ‘Darling, I can’t get a job.’ They consider you statistically employed. It’s not the way. But don’t worry about it because it’s going to take care of itself pretty quickly.”
During the campaign, he said the unemployment rate was really 42%, which included the millions of people who are not counted as a part of the labor force.