Bad News Sells – Zero Job Growth Edition
I was annoyed yesterday to hear the reporting on the August employment change, which was a wholly unsatisfactory zero jobs. This is typical, from the CBS Evening News:
“The economy is stuck in neutral. The government reported today that every time a job was created in August, another job was lost – the first time that’s happened in 66 years.”
Don’t get me wrong – zero job growth is bad. Even job growth of 45,000 – which is what the number would have been if not for the now-resolved Verizon strike – is bad. But the reporting made it seem far worse than it was. The media took a statistical curiosity – zero change in employment – and noted that this hadn’t happened in a long time. But in July, the economy gained 85,000 jobs, which was different than all of the prior 870 months on record. Why wasn’t the media screaming “The economy’s never gained 85,000 jobs in a month before!”
The simple inference of referencing WWII when talking about zero employment growth is that things haven’t been this bad since 1945, but that’s clearly wrong. During 2008 and 2009, the economy lost an average of 361,000 jobs per month. Compared to then, zero job growth is a great result.
A more reasonable comparison would have been to say that last month was worse than any month since September of last year, when 29,000 jobs were lost. But that wouldn’t sound as bad. And bad news sells.