Friday, April 02, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies and that Liberal Media

According to Reuters (and reprinted in this morning’s Times about fifteen minutes ago) the US economy created roughly 308,000 jobs this past month. This is great news, and I congratulate the 308,000 people who are no longer unemployed, and offer my condolences to the roughly 1.8 million out there who still can’t find work. The Bush administration is probably breathing a small sigh of relief as they see these job numbers, after all, almost every other economic indicator is doing well (home ownership? up up up! Productivity? The hightest ever!) so having a robust job market is good for them and good for their reelection chances.

Except, wait a minute, we don’t have a robust job market. We have one good month. One month of jobs growth is not, as Reuters would have you believe, “a decisive break out of a long slump” in job losses. It's only a month. Consistent high job additions would be a decisive break. So, if it happens for the next two months, then we can start talking about how great the news is.

There are some additional problems, of course. First of all, as the article itself mentions that “a long-hoped for rise in manufacturing jobs did not appear”, which means the sector we talk about the most on the news is not recovering. Second, there are roughly 120,000 new workers every month graduating into the work force needing jobs, so in any job report, 120,000 of those jobs are needed simply to break even. We’re still up this month, but by the considerably smaller figure of 288,000 jobs.

Then there is the larger issue: what kind of jobs are people getting? For example, the retail sector accounted for 47,000 of the 308,000 jobs. Retail tends to be low wage, benefitless, part time work. Certainly there are people who need the money, and let’s not look a gift horse in the you-know-where, but still. If good jobs (ones that pay well and offer benefits, regardless of what kind of work you do) are vanishing and bad jobs (low wage no benefits no union) are cropping up in their stead, this is not a good thing. And furthermore, it offers less comfort to the Bush administration. If you are one of the often-profiled ex-tech types who is now working at Starbucks, are you going to be thinking “great, the Bush administration created this job for me! Their economics plan must be working!” or are you thinking “I’m forced to work at Starbucks when I used to make $80,000 a year plus stock options. I hate this economy and I hate this President”.

Don’t forget, of all the jobs to disappear under Bush’s watch, only 20% of them went overseas. The rest simply don’t exist anymore, and while productivity remains obscenely high, they aren’t likely to be resurrected either. Not to mention that we're in more debt than we've ever been, and once jobs start getting added, interest rates go up. What's going to happen when the birds come home to that particular roost?

All of these are some good reasons why Twain wrote his famous line: “there are lies, damn lies and statistics”.

What I want to know is... why is Reuters repeating Bush spin instead of spending some time noting that this welcome news is not quite as welcome as the White House would like it to be?


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