Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were one of the all time great stand-up comedy teams from the 1940’s and 50’s. Their “Who’s On First, What’s On Second” routine is a timeless classic. If they were around today, the unemployment numbers coming out of Washington would no doubt give them ample material with which to work.
Abbott: The unemployment rate is stuck above eight percent. Times are tough; a lot of people are out of work.
Costello: Over eight percent of the workforce is still looking for work?
Costello: But you just told me the unemployment rate is over eight percent.
Abbott: It is.
Costello: So how many people are out of work?
Abbott: Sixteen percent.
Costello: (Looking perplexed). Sixteen percent of the workers are not working, but the unemployment rate is 8.3%?
Costello: (Looking determined). OK, so I go out and count all of the idle workers, turn that into a percent, and what number do I get?
Costello: And that’s the unemployment rate.
Abbott: No, the unemployment rate is 8.3%
Costello: (Grimace). The unemployed, they’re out of work, right?
Costello: So if you’re out of work, you’re unemployed.
Costello: Someone can be out of work but not counted as unemployed?
Costello: There’s more than one way to be out of work?
Abbott: Yes. You can be out of work and out of work, or you can be out of work and unemployed.
Costello: If I’m out of work, I’m not necessarily unemployed?
Costello: (Agitated). How can someone be out of work but not unemployed?
Abbott: If you’re out of work but you quit looking for work, the government no longer considers you to be unemployed.
Costello: Alright, if I’m out of work and I give up looking, I‘m not considered to be unemployed.
Abbott: (Smug look). According to the government.
Costello: They take me off of the unemployment role.
Costello: So if I’m out of work and I want to get off of the unemployment role, I can either get a job or stop looking.
Abbott: That’s what the government says.
Costello: (Looking brilliant). Here’s how we solve the unemployment problem: Everyone who’s out of work stops looking, and the unemployment rate goes to zero!
Abbott: You should work for the government.