April Unemployment Back Up to 9%; 27th Month Above 8%

The April jobs report showed 244,000 job gains, “surprisingly strong” numbers according to the Kansas City Star. Many national news outlets reported that jobs number as well as the rise in unemployment rate back to 9 percent in their headlines immediately reacting to the news.

CNBC initially suggested that the unemployment rate “ticked” up because of higher participation in the labor force, but a CNBC.com story a bit later said “nothing in the data suggests that. The labor participation rate for April, in  fact, stood unchanged at 64.2 percent.”

In another CNBC.com story they also said “the numbers suggested that a good portion of the boost came from McDonald’s, which moved to hire 50,000 workers last month.” While encouraging signs, don’t expect the news media to advertise that April was still the 27th month in which the unemployment rate was above 8 percent.

Almost as soon as Obama took office, his administration promoted and passed a $787 billion stimulus package using the selling point of keeping the unemployment rate below 8 percent. By that measure the stimulus has been a complete failure.

The news media, particularly the broadcast networks, have spun unemployment news for years; favoring Clinton and Obama, while berating Bush.

The Business & Media Institute found that in 2005-06 when Bush was president and the economy was strong and unemployment never went above 5 percent, the networks aired negative reports or spun stories negatively 58 percent of the time. In contrast, despite nearly 10 percent unemployment throughout the 2009-10 period leading up to the midterm elections, positive jobs reports and stories spun positively made up 52 percent of the stories.

Back in 2004, NBC’s Anne Thompson added a remark to the end of a good jobs report that made things seem worse. The May 2004 jobs report noted the creation of 248,000 new jobs. Thompson’s report was good, until the end when she declared, “The job market, finally gaining momentum. But is it enough to get over 8 million unemployed Americans back to work?”

Viewers who weren’t watching closely had to be baffled by the sudden reference to “8 million unemployed Americans” that Thompson described. That number was the total of the unemployed. Not only was it the identical percentage to the same month during the Clinton presidency (May 1996), but had Thompson bothered to ask any economist, they would have told her that the economy never provides total (0 percent) unemployment.

Other reporters like ABC’s Betsy Stark made wildly incorrect negative predictions during the Bush presidency.  On May 3, ABC “World News Tonight” Stark warned that the upcoming Labor Department numbers would be bad news: “And the next jobs report on Friday should tell us about how much the economy slowed down.” Three days later, the government said the total number of jobs created was 274,000, the best initial report of 2005. Stark didn’t bother to correct her very wrong prediction.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.