December 5, 2010

AP’s Misnamed Wiseman Joins the ‘BLS Must Be Wrong’ Brigade, Questioning Dismal Employment Report’s Validity

At the Associated Press late Sunday afternoon, reporter Paul Wiseman, who may have the most inappropriate last name in the history of business journalism, engaged in a brazen “It’s really not that bad” excuse-making exercise on behalf of the economy Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Ben Bernanke have created. In the process, he joined a Reuters reporter in questioning the validity of the information Friday’s Employment Situation Report.

Other than essentially asserting that he and others don’t like what it said, and muttering about “the government’s difficulty in adjusting the figures for seasonal factors,” Wiseman presented no tangible evidence as to why Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics might have been more off the mark than usual for an initial release. On Friday, Reuters reporter Lucia Mutikani relayed the same assertion on Friday (covered at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), calling the BLS report an “outlier.”

As I noted on Friday, I don’t ever recall an establishment press reporter questioning the underlying validity of the Employment Report. Now at least two have done so. I hope readers don’t mind my wondering if they’re doing so on someone’s instructions. Wiseman’s weirdness is particularly important because it will drive much of Monday’s business coverage at news outlets which subscribe to AP’s pablum.

Here are several paragraphs from the AP reporter’s rendition:

Economy is making steady gains despite weak hiring

The economy is starting to fire on almost every cylinder these days but the one that matters most: Job creation.

Factories are busier. Incomes are rising. Autos are selling. The holiday shopping season is shaping up as the best in four years. Stock prices are surging.

And many analysts are raising their forecasts for the economy’s growth. Goldman Sachs, for instance, just revised its gloomy prediction of a 2 percent increase in gross domestic product in 2011 to 2.7 percent and forecast 3.6 percent growth for 2012.

If only every major pillar of the economy were faring so well.

Despite weeks of brighter economic news, employers still aren’t hiring freely. The economy added a net total of just 39,000 jobs in November, the government said Friday.

That’s far too few even to stabilize the unemployment rate, which rose from 9.6 percent in October to 9.8 percent last month. Unemployment is widely expected to stay above 9 percent through next year, in part because of the still-depressed real estate industry.

… The meager job gains for November confounded economists. They’d expected net job growth to reach 145,000 and for the unemployment rate to stay at 9.6 percent.

Some economists dismissed the November data as a technical fluke, a result of the government’s difficulty in adjusting the figures for seasonal factors. They think the number will be revised up later.

… “Which are you going to believe,” O’Sullivan asks, “one month of payrolls or all the other data?”

If O’Sullivan thinks we should be impressed by “all of the other data, he’s got another thing coming:

  • Elsewhere in the report, Wiseman cited improved consumer confidence, and applauded its “highest level since June.” The trouble is, that result — 54.1, with a dismal current conditions assessment of 24.0 — is miles away from the reading of 90 that is consistent with healthy economy.
  • Wiseman also claims that the Christmas shopping season “got off to a buoyant start” (of course, he used the term “holiday”; Christmas is my substitution). Excuse me, but the predicted 2.3% rise he cites, if it indeed materializes, is about the same as inflation, and hardly makes up for the dismal numbers of the three years that preceded it.
  • The supposedly acceptable rate of economic growth isn’t at all acceptable coming out of a serious recession, even if the improvement Goldman Sachs expects materializes. This past quarter’s 2.5% annualized growth rate in the fifth quarter since the recession ended is a puny shadow of the 8.5% achieved during the same quarter of the Reagan recovery in 1984. In the next five quarters, the economy under Reagan grew at annualized rates of 8.0%, 7.1%, 3.9%, 3.3%, and 3.8%. This towers over even the improved predictions for the Obama economy during the fourth quarter of 2010 and all of next year — and the so-called Obama “recovery” has been marked by frequent “unexpected” disappointments.

As to the impugning of the Employment Situation Report, I’ll repeat what I posted Friday in reaction to Lucia Mutikani’s Reuters report:

Lucia’s lament that about “some economists” questioning the seasonal adjustments doesn’t fly. Referring to what has actually happened (i.e., the not seasonally adjusted numbers) clearly demonstrates this:

BLSnsaJobsAddsThru1110

BLSsaJobChanges1110.png

Translation:

  • For all nonfarm jobs, the last time November’s actual number was close to this month’s 217,000 was in 2004, when it was 251,000. You’ll notice that after seasonal adjustment, 2004′s number was added was 64,000. That’s pretty consistent.
  • For all private-sector jobs, the comparison is even more obvious, because in both 2010 and 2004 the number of jobs actually added was 101,000. This year’s +50,000 after seasonal adjustment is a bit better than the 28,000 in 2004, so if anything, Ms. Mutikani’s weak attempt at a complaint goes in the wrong direction, and November 2010 got a bit of a break relative to November 2004.

For the seasonally adjusted numbers to change meaningfully next month (i.e., by 50,000 or more in each case), the actual numbers in the not seasonally adjusted tables above will have to go up by about 100,000. It could happen, but it doesn’t seem likely — and again, where’s the evidence that this might happen?

I finished Wiseman’s write-up telling myself that maybe “AP” really stands for “Another Planet.” On Earth, in the United States of America, the economy is at best plodding along; at worst, if Ben Bernanke overdoes it with the can of worms known as quantitative easing — which, by the way, may be the only reason why the the stock market is “surging” — the whole thing could careen out of control and implode.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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1 Comment

  1. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one official report attacked like this by the MSM. They didn’t have a problem with it when for the past few months it showed positive (if still mediocre and unimpressive in the overall picture) gains.

    Man, I know the MSM was in the tank for Obama, but this is insane. I’ve never seen this amount of deep covering up for one president, even Clinton. Has the media been this fervent before?

    Comment by zf — December 6, 2010 @ 4:43 am

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