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Jobs Data Dial-A-Spin – Jobs report numbers spin out of control

Today, I could not just put the jobs report data in the sidebar of economic news as usual because there was so much spin all over the place that I thought it all deserved an article introducing the way the jobs data news is spun.

 

NPR’s headline and article presents probably the least biased view of the jobs data: “163,000 Jobs Added In July; Unemployment Rate Rose To 8.3 Percent.” Just the facts, Mame. This one gives a play-by-play back and forth as both sides — Republican and Democrat — try to spin this ambiguous jobs report to their own arguments.

A quick summary that explains the jobs data is that, while 163,000 new jobs were added, the number of new people entering (or re-entering) the workforce (especially in a post-graduation month) outpaced that gain. The number of new jobs in this report may also be revised down next month, just as June’s report was just reduced by 20,000 jobs. Economists had expected a net gain of 100,000 jobs in July, so that’s why some people are excited to see 163,000. If your expectations are low enough, anything looks good.

Another neutral headline that says the same thing, but speaks to the effect, rather than the numbers is:

U.S. hiring picks up but not enough to sideline Fed” (Reuters) Probably a fair synopsis of the contrasting figures in the jobs report is this quote: “‘It’s a relief we did not post another number like 75,000, but the reality is it’s not night and day. It’s not as though it brings us all the way back to being wildly optimistic,’ said Robert DiClemente, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup in New York.” The excitement in the stock markets, in other words, is nothing but a sigh of relief that numbers were not as bad as they have been — not that the numbers are good. It’s like a lid taken off a pot that, then, boils over.

 

Jobs data gives fuel for presidential candidates

You can change the emphasis of the data in this jobs report the other way: “Jobless rate rises to 8.3 percent, hiring picks up but still falling short” (Fox) Fox, of course, wants the news to look bad for President Obama, so their article leads off with the most negative information they can glean out of the report: “The unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent in July, reflecting a stagnant economic picture.” Then they note a “glimmer of positive news” in the 163,000 new jobs added, but immediately take that back with “but the number brings the economy back to treading-water status.”

They’re right of course. It’s just that is the emphasis one would expect from Fox. They give about six column inches to the negative outlook Republicans extract from the jobs report and about one column inch to the positive signs Democrats took from it with another inch or two for the negative aspects Democrats admitted to. In all, Fox sees the numbers more negatively, as I would, but Fox does it for political reasons perhaps. (And to try to be fair with the numbers, I’m presenting articles from all sides, since the jobs data is ambiguous.)

Apparently Fox decided their original title for this article was a little too obviously biased: “Wrong-Way Growth: Jobless Jumps In July as New Hiring Remains Slow.” Wow! That one was loaded with nothing but negatives. After being linked to with that title on NPR’s blog about this story, the article now comes up under the first title I shoed above, which edges a little toward neutrality. First, it tells you joblessness is up, then mentions that hiring has improved, but then qualifies that by saying it still falls short. A little more balanced, but not much.

Not everyone wanted to present the jobs data in the worst way for Obama’s chances of re-election. Here’s a story that strongly slants the headline the opposite way: “Jobs report keeps Barack Obama hopes alive” (The Economic Times). Ahh, according to this Indian news source that I generally like, this is good news for Obama … a breath of spring air into the summer doldrums. “Surprise job data Friday kept President Barack Obama in the game and deprived Republican Mitt Romney of a narrative change.”

It doesn’t seem to me that it prevented Mitt Romney from seeing the worst in the jobs data. The NPR article above and the Fox News article both gave plenty of statements from Romney about the rise in the jobless rate; but the Economic Times draws this from it: “In normal times, such a report would be viewed as tepid and more bad news than good … but in politics perception is all and, as the data beat expectations and outpaced last month’s revised total of 64,000 new jobs, Obama can breathe easier.”

While Obama may have caught his breath a little easier, I think he had better not put the oxygen bottle away yet. Rather than a breath of fresh air, I think he just got a breath of slightly less poluted air than he’s had to breathe over the last three months. The Economic Times is right about one thing: In normal times 163,000 new jobs in a month would be considered a bad sign. Only in very bad times could a bad sign be considered a good sign.

NPR is not not so sure today’s numbers tip anything toward one candidate or another: “Latest Jobs Data Maintain Status Quo Of Obama-Romney Race.”

 

Jobs data in the report excites stock markets globally

Without any election spin in the headline, others gave  the usual smarmy talk about the economic recovery: “Jobs Gains Topping Forecasts Ease U.S. Slowdown Concerns” (Bloomberg) “The U.S. economy generated more jobs than forecast in July as automakers and health-care providers boosted employment, easing concern the three-year expansion is faltering.” Perhaps the real shock for everyone here is that, for once, the jobs data came in with a higher report than what economist expected. Throughout the Great Recession, economists have guessed far high of the real numbers. They missed seeing the Great Recession coming, and they have largely err’ed toward optimism ever since.

That might have eased Bloomberg’s concerns, but it didn’t ease mine any. Their title completely leaves out the bad news. Naturally, with a slant like that Bloomberg was also ready to point to other exemplary evidence of economic recovery: “European Stocks Gain for Ninth Week on U.S. Jobs.”

NBC’s headline was downright bullish on the jobs data: “US economy’s job engine revved up in July.” The rest of the article was a little more balanced than the headline. “Even with the better-than-expected payroll number, it’s not sufficiently big enough to change the big-picture view. The economy is growing, but not at a satisfactory rate to bring down unemployment.” One just has to wonder why NBC saw a mere 163,000 new jobs as an economy that is “revved up,” when it is not even enough to keep the jobless count from rising and would be considered terrible in normal years. Revved up?

In all fairness, that is how the stock market in Europe responded, as did the stock market in the U.S.: “U.S. Stocks Surge to Three-Month High After Jobs Data.” (Wall Street Journal)

 

In conclusion about the Jobs Data

It’s a simple conclusion. Everyone will see (and has seen) in this report what they want to.

Bear one point in mind, however, that 1.144 million of the total 3.384 million jobs created since the government declared the Great Recession to be over, have been government jobs. (*)

 

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