By Jeff Cox, CNBC.com Staff Writer
NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- The national unemployment rate is becoming an increasingly meaningless statistic when it comes to painting a true picture of economic and job growth. While the December drop from 9.4 percent to 9.0 percent might have looked nice on paper, digging through the real numbers shows the actual jobs picture hasn't improved at all. In fact, the situation is at best stagnating, despite headline numbers that make it appear things are getting better. At the heart of the unemployment rate deception are the nearly three million Americans counted as "marginally attached" to the labor force. Those folks would take a job if offered, but actually aren't actively looking and thus not counted in the government's official statistics. There are a million more of them than there were in January 2008, thanks to the lousy job market that seems to be improving only at the margins.
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