Economy & Budget

White House, media can’t spin terrible job numbers

White House, media can't spin terrible job numbers
American Enterprise Institute

Remember: We’re now on our 42nd straight month of unemployment at or above 8 percent, and the President of the United States is out on the campaign trail arguing that raising taxes and spending money will fix it.

And how is that working out for us?

In July, the Labor Department reports, the economy added 163,000 jobs and unemployment ticked up to 8.3 percent. The economy, which typically needs around 100,000 jobs just to keep pace with the new workers entering the labor market, is on a three-month average of 105,000.  So another disaster. (Also, job creation in June was revised down to 64,000.)

The White House claims that “today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover.” But stagnation is not recovery — a noun, meaning a return to a normal state of health or strength. Unless, that is, this is the new normal and voters accept it.

You expect the White House to spin, but the media’s take on these numbers — though subtle — is also misleading.

“Despite the seemingly good news,” reports CNBC (seemingly good news!), “the report’s household showed that the actual amount of Americans working dropped by 195,000,” as labor force participation is at a 30-year low. As Jim Pethokoukis at AEI likes to point out, if the workforce were the same as when George W. Bush left office, the unemployment rate would be 11 percent. Seemingly, indeed.

Then there is the expectation game. “The figure released on Friday was better than most mainstream forecasts for July jobs growth, with most analysts’ predictions hovering around 100,000,” writes Politico in a piece headlined “Jobs numbers better than expected” — as if forecasts by economists have any bearing on the awfulness of the numbers themselves. Economists were anticipating terrible numbers. Coming in slightly ahead of  terrible numbers doesn’t make the number any less terrible.

Then we’re told that bad news is not all bad because it may mean a new round of quantitative easing from the Federal Reserve. Rarely do reporters even bother to explore this issue past their own assumptions. Rarely, if ever, do they mention that previous rounds of quantitative easing, of Operation Twist and of large-scale Federal stimulus (and let’s not forget that yearly trillion-dollar Keynesian stimulus plan called the deficit) have done little, if anything, to improve the situation.

Never mind all that … because this New York Times story says that the “one bright spot from Friday’s report, economists say, is that it may spur the Federal Reserve to act.” Economists say a lot of things. “Economists” say everything, actually. If you watch well-known financial writers and economics reports on Twitter, they seem to believe that all our economic struggles could be solved if the Fed simply injected more liquidity into the economy — and they craft all their stories accordingly.

In that same piece  there is a quote from Neal Soss, chief economist at Credit Suisse, that sums up where we are: “This is the weakest recovery we’ve ever seen, weaker even that the recovery during the Great Depression. If you’re not scared by that then you’re not paying attention.”

Which begs the political question: If George Bush was responsible for the recession, is Obama in charge of the recovery?

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