Media Negative throughout Nearly Four Years of Job Growth

     The media haven’t done the best job on jobs.      


     In 47 straight months of job growth, the U.S. economy has created 8.3 million jobs. But despite that economic achievement, the media have consistently presented employment news and the overall economy negatively in the past four years.

     The media haven’t done the best job on jobs.      


     In 47 straight months of job growth, the U.S. economy has created 8.3 million jobs. But despite that economic achievement, the media have consistently presented employment news and the overall economy negatively in the past four years.


     Katie Couric dismissed July 2007 job creation in one sentence on the “CBS Evening News” August 3: “The Labor Department says the economy was able to create only 92,000 jobs.” (emphasis added)


     Despite economic worries over subprime loans and credit markets, the chief economist of Bear Stearns, David Malpass, wrote that “Jobs matter more” in an August 7 editorial.


     “Jobs matter more. For many, the value of future employment is much greater than their home equity. The low jobless claims and unemployment rate – clear signs of a strong labor environment – raise confidence and likely future wages,” wrote Malpass in The Wall Street Journal.


     If economists’ predictions are correct, September 7 will mark four straight years of positive job growth – an economic milestone 48 months long. But in the last four years, journalists have omitted or downplayed low unemployment figures and emphasized “massive layoffs.” They’ve overlooked later revisions to Labor Department statistics that showed even more jobs added. And in doing so, the news media have missed an enormous piece of the economic picture – skewing the situation for viewers.


     Looking ahead, The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey said that economists “expect the economy to add around 108,000 jobs a month over the next 12 months.”


     While some economists claim that 150,000 new jobs per month is necessary to keep up with population growth, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta said “the more appropriate job creation target to keep unemployment under control is 1.17 million jobs per year, or about 98,000 jobs” per month.


     When the jobs numbers were reported in the media, stories were often downbeat like CNN’s Lou Dobbs on Dec. 3, 2004, despite 16 months of straight job growth and only 3 days after it was announced that Gross Domestic Product grew by 3.9 percent in the third quarter.


     “The unemployment rate today, 5.4 percent, but only 112,000 jobs created. There’s some real big issues here,” said Dobbs on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” Of course, since then the unemployment rate has dropped as low as 4.4 percent and is presently at a low 4.6 percent.


     Job losses were also emphasized by networks presenting a distorted picture of the U.S. economy, despite an average of 176,000 jobs gained per month since the Bush tax cuts took effect in 2003.


     That’s what “CBS Evening News” did on July 20, 2005.


     “Twenty-five thousand layoffs and more on the way. I’m Trish Regan with why the jobs picture is looking very ‘pink’ these days,” said Regan. That report was less than two weeks after the government reported 146,000 jobs had been created in June 2005.


     Pink as in “pink slip” was not an accurate portrayal of the national employment situation in the past 4 years. Since August 2003, when the Bush tax cuts took effect, more than 8.3 million new jobs have been created and the unemployment rate dropped as low as 4.4 percent twice. That was the lowest rate since May 2001.


     According to James Sherk and Rea S. Hederman, Jr. of The Heritage Foundation, the unemployment rate “has not fallen below this rate [4.4 to 4.6 percent] since the early 1970s” with the exception of the late 1990s tech bubble.

Predictions, Omissions and Layoffs, Oh My!


     The past four years of media coverage on jobs have been marred by pessimistic predictions, omissions, lack of economic context and focus on job losses instead of gains.  


     On May 3, 2005, ABC “World News Tonight” reporter Betsy 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 wildly incorrect prediction.


     ABC’s Jake Tapper also supplied a negative prediction on Aug. 16, 2006, saying, “But growth may not be enough to stem layoffs, especially post-Labor Day when thousands of jobs are expected to be cut.”


     But employment actually went up in September 2006 by 51,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 percent.


     NBC’s Tom Costello overlooked the fact that 5-percent unemployment was lower than the average for the last three decades when he asked “is the economy creating enough jobs to keep the unemployment rate at just 5 percent?” That was on “Nightly News” Nov. 4, 2005.


    Of the three networks, only NBC “Today” actually reported between July 6 and 8 that 132,000 jobs were created in June 2007.


     The Business & Media Institute analyzed job and employment coverage from evening news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC in 2005 and found the networks focused on job losses in slightly more than half the reports. Just 35 percent of the stories addressed job gains.


     An earlier report from BMI called “One Economy, Two Spins” found that in 2004 – when President Bush was in a similar economic situation as President Clinton had been in 1996 – the media repeatedly criticized Bush for poor job creation, but praised Clinton.


     The media also often took a “good, but” approach to positive employment news. “Lou Dobbs Tonight” reported that 215,000 jobs were added in November 2005, but then undermined it with a story about the “devastated manufacturing sector.”


     “[D]espite today’s news on the economy, the news from our nation’s devastated manufacturing sector is getting worse tonight. U.S. auto workers are bracing for news of more production cutbacks, also punishing layoffs,” said CNN’s Kitty Pilgrim on Dec. 2, 2005.


     The media have used manufacturing to forecast economic downturn for years. But today’s economy isn’t Old Detroit. In a May 2006 column, economist, professor and BMI adviser Walter E. Williams explained that U.S. production has increased even as the number of employees needed has decreased.


     “U.S. manufacturers are producing and exporting more goods than ever before. While manufacturing output easily outpaces the larger U.S. economy, manufacturing employment, at 14.2 million, is at its lowest level in more than 50 years,” wrote Williams. The way innovation and technology change the necessity of a type of job is called “creative destruction.”



Media Silent on Additional Jobs


     Journalists usually didn’t report revisions to employment reports, which can show more job growth than previously indicated. By ignoring that information, viewers were left with a negatively skewed perspective of the U.S. employment situation.


     The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report on employment for June 2007 on July 6. In that report, the BLS added 75,000 jobs to the total for April and May. According to Heritage Foundation experts, the April revision “was especially significant since it was originally reported that fewer jobs were created during April than during any month in the past two years.”


     But ABC, CBS and NBC didn’t see it that way. While NBC’s “Today” on July 6 did report the “better-than-expected” job growth for June, it didn’t mention the revisions for April and May at all.


     Another example was September 2005, the month Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. In an initial release, government data showed job loss for the month, but none of the three major networks mentioned that the number was later revised to show job gains.


     Experts had predicted 500,000 lost jobs as a result of Katrina, so positive growth for September should have resulted in cheering, not silence.


     Speaking of silence … in its annual benchmark revision, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Oct. 6, 2006, that it found 810,000 more new jobs than previously reported. The networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) didn’t report that finding at all that weekend (Oct. 6-9).


     Despite the networks’ silence, Investor’s Business Daily called the finding “the biggest upward revision in at least 10 years” and The Wall Street Journal labeled it the “whoops” report on Oct. 9, 2006.


     “Most of the media has ignored all this and instead focused on the disappointing 51,000 ‘new jobs’ number from the establishment survey for September,” explained the Journal’s editorial.



How Did We Get 8.3 Million New Jobs?


    Since the media presented the employment situation negatively over the past four years, they certainly didn’t look for a reason that the country has created 8.3 million jobs in 47 months.


    Many free-market economists and experts credit the Bush tax cuts with the high job creation and low unemployment that has benefited the U.S. economy.


     “The tax cuts clearly helped boost the economy, as employment has grown every month since August 2003, shortly after these tax cuts were made law,” wrote The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk and Rea S. Hederman, Jr. in July.


     They also explained, “A low unemployment rate and solid job creation rate have increased income for workers. Wages have risen 3.9 percent over the past 12 months, while inflation has risen by only 2.6 percent. Raises and promotions are moving many workers up the career ladder.”


     Economist Stephen Moore testified before the House of Representatives in March 2003 that it is a myth that the “Bush tax cut won’t stimulate economic growth or jobs.” Moore cited the market expansion that followed the Kennedy tax cuts in 1964 and the prosperity and 15 million jobs that followed Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981.


     Lawrence Kudlow of CNBC’s “Kudlow & Company” has also credited the tax cuts with job growth. In 2006 he wrote, “The dirty little secret here is that record low tax rates on capital are leading to continued job and income gains as businesses continue to expand.”