Tuesday, July 06, 2004

NY Times misleads in reporting Labor Department data

In a July 3 front-page above-the-fold article entitled "U.S. Job Growth for June Shows Steep Slowdown," the NY Times emphasized lots of bad news for the economy. This is extraordinarily misleading.

The first six paragraphs, reproduced here, pour on the bad news:
Job growth slowed sharply in June, the government reported yesterday, pulling back from a recent period of strong employment gains and casting doubt on the vigor of the nation's economic expansion.

The Labor Department reported that employers added only 112,000 jobs in June, less than half the average monthly increase of the first five months of the year.

The reported increase, which includes adjustments intended to account for normal seasonal variations, was under the 150,000 threshold of jobs needed for employment to keep pace with natural labor force growth. It was also well below the 250,000 forecast on average by Wall Street economists, who have been consistently wrong about jobs for the better part of the last year.

The unemployment rate, which essentially has not budged all year, remained unchanged from May at 5.6 percent.

"It's pretty clear the economy downshifted in June," said Sung Won Sohn, chief economist of Wells Fargo & Company in Minneapolis.

The renewed weakness in employment provided unwelcome news to President Bush's re-election campaign, which has been counting on drawing attention to an improving job market to make the case for its economic policies. And it offered fresh ammunition for Senator John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, whose criticism of Mr. Bush's economic track record has been undermined since hiring began setting a fast pace earlier this year.
Only the most persistent of readers will make it to some of the most important information about the data. This is located on the continuation of the article on an inside page of a different section in the nineteenth paragraph of the article. It is here however that we learn,
Other economists mentioned that the data might have been distorted because many workers got a day off for the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan, which occurred during the week of the jobs survey and could have artificially reduced the recorded number of hours worked.
The data is flawed! Much of the country took at least a few hours off for the funeral. Some employers closed for the whole day.

Later the articles mentions that the average work week fell from 33.8 hours in May to 33.6 hours in June.

No kidding! The hours were measured the weak of Reagan's funeral; there is no indication here of any downward trend in the economy.

Because of the suspect nature of the data, one wonders why the Times saw this item as being worthy of front-page, lead article billing.

In another July 3 article entitled, "Kerry, in Midwest Tour, Laments Lost Jobs," the Times unskeptically reports,
Senator John Kerry began his Fourth of July bus tour of the Midwest Friday with a patriotic paean to the heartland and a scathing indictment of the Bush administration for being too willing to settle for modest job growth.

At a rally festooned in red, white and blue that drew thousands to this small city near Duluth, Mr. Kerry said that the latest employment numbers were simply not good enough. The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 112,000 jobs in June, fewer than half the number in recent months.
How is this responsible journalism?