In late 2009, when high rates of unemployment began looking like a sad fact of life for the foreseeable future, the media started looking for ways to put a positive spin on the situation.
Sure, many had predicted the next great depression when unemployment stood at around 6 percent in 2008, but with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, a number of reporters suddenly found the recession's many silver linings.
"All I Want for Christmas Is a Layoff" read the headline of one ABCNews.com column following employees who would rather get a nice severance package than continue in their dull vocations. Newsweek cheerily noted that since men had been hit harder by the recession than women, they would now be able to help out around the house. The Los Angeles Times coined possibly the most absurd term of the recession to date in "funemployment," and discussed jobless Americans who prefer "hitting the beach" to "punching the clock."
Now the New York Times is celebrating the fact that the 90.5 percent of those who are employed are seeing a pleasant rise in their wages. See, the recession's not that bad.
After the obligatory introduction - a few paragraphs lamenting those Americans who have lost their jobs - the Times started searching for the upside:
But since this recent recession began in December 2007, real average hourly pay has risen nearly 5 percent. Some employers, especially state and local governments, have cut wages. But many more employers have continued to increase pay.
Something similar happened during the Great Depression, notes Bruce Judson of the Yale School of Management. Falling prices meant that workers who held their jobs received a surprisingly strong effective pay raise.
This time around, nominal wages - the numbers people see in their paychecks - have risen throughout the slump, as companies have passed along some of the impressive productivity to their (remaining) workers. Meanwhile, inflation has been almost non-existent, except for parts of last year, when real wages did briefly fall.
Obviously, real wages could begin falling again if inflation picks up or more employers cut pay. And many workers are already struggling with big debts and diminished 401(k) accounts. Still, the contrast is pretty stark. The typical jobless person has been out of work six months. The typical worker has received a raise.
Yes, the typical worker has received a raise. In fact, fewer than ten percent do not have a job. Say, why isn't anyone giving Obama credit for the 90.5 percent employment rate? After all, the typical person is still employed.
During the Bush years, the Times was of course more concerned about actual employment during a recession. Throughout 2002, the paper bemoaned the "jobless recovery" - despite the fact that the unemployment rate was never more than two percent below pre-recession levels. The Times shunned good news outright, favoring to report the more glum details of the nation's economic outlook.
"Employers Balk at New Hirings, Despite Growth," was a headline typical of the Times's attitude. Paul Krugman consistently opined on the "jobless recovery," and some Times reporters speculated that government accounting tricks had shielded the public from seeing just how bad the economy was.
The recession beginning in late 2001, though less severe than the one in which the country finds itself now, lasted a good deal longer than this one has lasted so far, as you can see in this graph, courtesy of Calculated Risk.
That is not to say that the 2001 recession more serious. As you can see, our current economic downturn is much deeper, and if it continues on its current trajectory may last even longer than the early-2000s recession.
It does mean, however, that the New York Times had ample opportunity to ponder all the benefits of recession economics in an economic environment that was far less severe than the current one. I wonder why we were never informed of all the upsides.