AP's 'Workers Giving Up' Claim Goes from 'Perhaps' to 'Fact'

.... and in 24 Hours, with No Credible Support

In a report from the presidential campaign trail in Wyoming early Saturday morning, Sara Kugler of the Associated Press picked up on an economic meme created out of whole cloth by one of her colleagues, and treated it as an undisputed fact -- all in the name of creating support for campaign rhetoric coming from one of the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates.

The meme got its start on Friday morning shortly after Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly Employment Situation Report, when AP's Jeannine Aversa offered up the following (bold is mine):

The Labor Department's report, released Friday, also showed that the nation's unemployment rate dipped to 4.8 percent as hundreds of thousands of people — perhaps discouraged by their prospects — left the civilian labor force. The jobless rate was 4.9 percent in January.

NewsBusters's Noel Sheppard specifically pounced on that nonsense within an hour after Aversa's claim, as did yours truly a short time later at at NewsBusters and at BizzyBlog. My post also noted that the number of unemployed has dropped significantly -- by 195,000 during February, and 284,000 in the past two months -- changes that Aversa totally ignored.

Here's how Kugler wove the false "discouraged worker" meme into three of the final five paragraphs of her report, and expanded on it (bold is mine):

(Hillary Clinton) told audiences in both states on Friday that the Labor Department's report on Friday showing a loss of 63,000 jobs nationwide in February is an alarming sign of economic troubles.

"The economic policies of the Bush administration are failures. People are out of work, and the work they have doesn't pay what it used to pay," Clinton said in Hattiesburg, Miss.

The Labor Department's report also indicated that the nation's unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent as hundreds of thousands of people gave up looking for jobs. The jobless rate was 4.9 percent in January.

Kugler thus transformed something that Aversa said might "perhaps" be happening into an established fact. Nice.

As Sheppard and I both noted on Friday, there is no credible evidence that "hundreds of thousands of people gave up looking for jobs" in February. The only point anyone can come in trying to defend that line of argument is to note that the number of adults not working went up a seasonally adjusted 644,000 (the not seasonally adjusted raw increase was 518,000).

That's a weak argument. The fact is, despite Aversa's near-assurance that Kugler converted into an assumption, we don't know why February's number went up as much as it did. There are plenty of other reasons, besides "giving up," why folks might leave the workforce.

One reason might very well be increased retirements. The AP writers overlooked the fact that early members of the Baby Boom that began on January 1, 1946 are turning 62 this year, and are thus eligible for early-retirement benefits in Social Security's Old Age program. Many early Boomers may actually be retiring a bit sooner than 62 because they can afford to wait a few months for Social Security to kick in. Another factor might be voluntary and involuntary departures from existing jobs after a pre-Christmas ramp-up in the retail and shipping sectors; most retailers' year-ends take place on or around January 31. It could also be that more young people are choosing to stay in school and are delaying their entry into the workforce.

None of the very real possibilities just mentioned has a darn thing to do with "giving up."

Aversa's argument, as both Sheppard and yours truly pointed out, runs smack into the contradictory reality that the number of discouraged workers -- those who have "given up," if you will -- hasn't changed much. In fact February 2008's discouraged-worker estimate of 396,000 was 15% lower than January's 467,000, and was not much higher than February 2007's 375,000.

But it would appear that the AP and its reporters aren't about to let the truth get in the way of a good, yet made-up, story -- especially if it enhances Democratic candidates' opportunities to demagogue the economy.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.