The Times did a nice job of reminding us today just how much official statistics are – well, just that, official statistics. (See, “Out of Work, Too Down to Search On, and Uncounted.”) The problem is that, even though we know better, we tend to take them for reality.

The jobless rate, for example, was 9.7 % in August. But that figure only refers to those who were actively looking for work in the previous four weeks, not those who are actually out of work, or even those who would like to find a job but have given up hope of finding one.

This is not a hidden fact, and we are often reminded of what the official numbers do not take into account: those too frustrated to continue searching, those who have settled for early retirement, who have moved in with others, who work odd jobs off the books, who are just too discouraged or depressed to try finding jobs.

So why do we continue pumping out these misleading figures? I do appreciate that statisticians have to draw the line somewhere for their statistics to have any meaning – but they are not the ones who set the limits. I also appreciate that the government does not want to make things look any worse than they are. But I think it is also true that we all don’t want to be reminded of how many of us are feeling hopeless, depressed and perpetually marginalized.

It’s one of those big things we don’t want to know we know, like infant mortality rates, the cost of PTSD, declines in the value of our investments, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.