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My previous comment on employment data was back in August. In the intervening months, the unemployment rate—a favorite for headline-makers—grew to double-digits. Now the November data is out, and blowhards of every stripe are jousting over the meaning of the first drop in that measure in a couple of years.

It’s all gas.

The unemployment rate is dependent upon too many variables and subject to too much manipulation for my tastes. I look at employment, not unemployment. What we really care about is how many people are adding value to our economy. And how much.

In August, 133.5 millions were working. The official figures show that in November there were 131.0 millions working. Employment is still shrinking. It’s another instance of “dying less quickly” being spun as good news.

Hours worked and average hourly earnings appear essentially unchanged since August. I suggest that means employers had already cut out their slack—and increased productivity by letting marginal workers go—by last summer. I can accept this as genuine good news. Rid of excess weight and diseased tissue, employers are no longer dying.

Of course, that’s no consolation to anyone who wasn’t valuable enough to retain their job. Diseased tissue still has to eat.

There’s another statistics that seems a good measure of how much value employees are actually creating. It is Withheld Income and Employment Taxes (WIET). The U.S. Treasury reports this daily. WIET is the aggregrate of the deductions on everybody’s pay stub. Since our taxes are progressive, WIET rises faster than actual earnings. And WIET is a major share of how the Federal Government pays for wars, handouts and its legitimate obligations.

In August, 2009, the Feds skimmed $126.4 billion from workers. November’s take was $127.7 billion. For a good-times comparison, picked at random, workers in March of 2007 generated $157.0 billion for the U.S. Treasury.

Having just looked these up for the first time, it seems to support an argument that the overall value generated by our economy has been steady since the summer. And that plateau is maybe 20% lower than a couple of years ago. Current value is being created by fewer people, who are working harder and/or smarter.

Another statistic that makes headlines is GDP. That is subject to even more manipulation than the unemployment figure. As I prefer to count actual workers over an abstract unemployment percentage, WIET may be a good check against the proclaimed state of the overall economy. If there is domestic production, we know the Treasury will take their cut. Until the Treasury’s takes goes up, it’s hard to argue that the economy is growing in any meaningful way.

If you want to follow the economy, follow the workers. And the best way to follow the workers is to follow the money.