AP: Is It 'Recession No Longer a Question' or 'Widening Agreement'?

Is it just me, or is the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa doing an end-zone dance because she thinks that the recession Old Media has been pining for has finally arrived?

Someone needs to remind her that one negative quarter, if it even occurs, does not a recession make.

In an early-Saturday story on the economy, Aversa treated the recession as a lock in her first paragraph, even though the fifth paragraph betrayed uncertainty (bolds are mine):

It's no longer a question of recession or not. Now it's how deep and how long. Workers' pink slips stacked ever higher in March as jittery employers slashed 80,000 jobs, the most in five years, and the national unemployment rate climbed to 5.1 percent. Job losses are nearing the staggering level of a quarter-million this year in just three months.

For the third month in a row total U.S. employment rolls shrank—often a telltale sign that the economy has jolted dangerously into reverse.

At the same time, the jobless rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point, a sharp increase usually associated with times of deep economic stress.

The grim picture described by the Labor Department on Friday provided stark evidence of just how much the jobs market has buckled under the weight of the housing, credit and financial crises. Businesses and jobseekers alike are feeling the pain.

"It is now very clear that the fat lady has sung for the economic expansion. The country has slipped into a recession," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. Indeed, there is widening agreement that the first recession since 2001 has arrived.

"Widening agreement" is a far cry from "It's a question of how deep and how long," ma'am.

Throughout her report, Aversa makes the same mistake -- mistaking seasonally-adjusted total employment losses for actual job losses -- that she did in an earlier report Friday (covered in more detail by me yesterday at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog).

The economy lost 80,000 jobs in March and 232,000 jobs during the first quarter of 2008 on a seasonally-adjusted basis. But, no matter how much Ms. Aversa may wish that it were so, that does not translate to the "blood on the streets" verbiage she used -- language that was mimicked by most of the rest of Old Media yesterday:

Job losses were widespread last month, hitting workers at factories, construction companies, retailers, banks, real-estate firms and even temporary-help agencies. Also mortgage brokers, hotels, computer design shops, accounting firms, architecture and engineering companies, legal services, airlines and other transportation as well as telecommunications companies.

Those cuts swamped employment gains elsewhere, including at hospitals and other heath-care sites, educational services, child day-care providers, bars and restaurants, insurance companies, museums, zoos and parks.

The fact of the matter is that the economy added 574,000 jobs in February, after having added another 529,000 in January (data can be retrieved from this BLS page; select the very first "not seasonally adjusted" table):

BLSrawDataEmployed0108to0308.jpg

It sadly is the case that the number of jobs added in January and February of this year is significantly lower than the number added during the same two months in 2007 and 2006. This largely explains why total employment, when adjusted for seasonality, has shrunk. There is also no denying that the slower level of job additions so far this year in comparison to previous years is cause for concern about whether a recession has begun.

But none of this changes that fact that the negative core of Aversa's employment narrative ("pink slips stacked higher," and "job losses were widespread last month") is demonstrably false. Pink slips did NOT stack higher, and there were job GAINS (though less than one would have hoped for).

There is no indication in her AP story that Aversa's reporting is entirely based on seasonally adjusted data. It makes me wonder if she, or AP, even realize it.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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