NY Times Profiles Racist, 'Deteriorating' Labor Market

     A job shortage is sweeping across the nation, impoverishing minorities and plunging the economy into a recession along the way … according to The New York Times. It would be stunning if only the numbers backed it up.

     “As the economy slows and perhaps slides deeper into a recession that may already be under way, communities like this – cities that have long struggled with a shortage of jobs – see work becoming scarcer still,” reporter Peter S. Goodman wrote March 2.

     “In many communities, dreams of upward mobility are yielding to despair and the grim realization that the economy – not strong for less-educated workers even when it was growing – may now be shrinking, making it tougher than ever to find a job,” Goodman reported.

     He labeled the job market “increasingly anemic,” “sliding” and “deteriorating” and said “many companies, long reluctant to add workers, are hunkered down and waiting for improved prospects.”

     Goodman profiled Nicole Flennaugh, an African-American widow in Oakland, Calif., who is having trouble finding a job. Although Flennaugh has applied for “dozens of full-time jobs,” she has had to take temporary office work to support herself and her two daughters.

     It’s tough, Flennaugh said, because “you’re used to making $17 an hour with benefits, and now you have to take any job for $8 an hour.” Goodman described Flennaugh “scrolling dejectedly through online job listings while sending another batch of applications into the ether.”

     Goodman found two other Oakland-area residents who were struggling to find work – one whose bad credit was allegedly impeding her ability to find work, and another who quit a $15-an-hour job as a truck driver, had trouble finding better work and ended up settling for a $9-an-hour warehouse job.

     Journalism schools teach that three examples make a trend. But do the data support Goodman’s hypothesis that the national job market is “increasingly anemic” and “sliding” and “deteriorating?”

     For one, payroll employment increased every month in 2007 at an average of 83,000 jobs per month. The job growth was slower than in 2006, when an average of 166,000 jobs were added every month, but it was growth nonetheless. Goodman didn’t mention payroll employment numbers.

     Goodman noted – although not until the 20th paragraph of his story – that “the unemployment rate remains at a historically low level of 4.9 percent.” But he qualified the number by noting that “this does not include people who have given up looking for work.”

     He didn’t provide data to back up the implication that many people are excluded from the unemployment figure because they’re so dejected that they stop looking for work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does have statistics that address this – what it calls “underutilization.”

     In January 2008, the BLS counted 467,000 people who “want a job now” but are not looking for work due to “discouragement over job prospects.” The number is slightly above the 2007 monthly average of 401,667. But it’s hardly the highest in recent years. In June 2006, 481,000 people felt discouraged about job prospects. In July 2004, 499,000 people felt that way. More than half a million people felt discouraged about job prospects in January 2005.

     Goodman may have found enough anecdotes for a journalism school “trend” story, but the numbers he should be familiar with simply don’t back up his assertion that the job market – and by association the economy as a whole – is in a tailspin.