Minister of Science and Chief Protector of the Faith

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Poor Job Growth Underreported by the Mainstream Media


Despite false White House claims and poorly researched media reports during the last seven years, job growth in the United States has consistently failed to meet population growth.

Population growth between 2000 to 2007 was:14,400,000
job growth from 2000 to 2007 was:8,382,000
population growth (2000-2007) minus job growth (2000-2007) was:-6,018,000

Economists estimate that the country needs to add at least 150,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth. Job growth figures have consistently failed to meet population growth estimates for the last seven years.

Job growth has always been significantly larger than population growth on average for most of the last century, with the exception of the Great Depression. As you can see from this graph, the feeble job growth numbers as compared to population growth in the last four years (2004-2007) do not begin to appreciably offset the huge overall downturn of the previous three years (2001-2003). These figures are not significantly larger than population growth as has been the average for a healthy economics periods during most of the last century.

Perhaps part of the reason that the media has only reporting job growth in terms of financial news is that traditionally the benchmark used to describe the state of jobs in the nation are unemployment figures. Although unemployment figures are almost invariably used to describe labor issues, they are not the only overall indicator of employment nationwide.

People who are unable to find a job by the time that their unemployment benefits run out simply drop out of the statistics. Despite the media's constant usage of unemployment figures as an indicator of the economic health of the country, unemployment figures are only one statistic - and do not accurately reflect the number of jobs in the country.

The White House (and the press) have consistently denied the truth on this matter, spinning rhetoric that promotes any job growth as a positive factor in the economy. Right now the White House website touts job growth as a major success for the administration:

"Our economy has a solid foundation, but there are also areas of real concern. Our economy has seen the longest uninterrupted period of job growth on record52 months of job growth – but job creation has slowed recently. Consumer spending has been growing, but the housing market is declining. Business investment and exports are still rising, but the cost of imported oil has increased." [02/19/08]

"Longest uninterrupted period of job growth on record" - I have no idea how the White House economists are able to pull that rabbit out their collective hat, the post gives no explantion as to how they arrived at that particular conclusion. The fact of the matter is that job growth for the last five years has not even kept up with population growth.

To decode this message, we have to actually extract job growth numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. During college I was on the school newspaper for a semester, and I wrote a story about job growth for the paper because I was interested in the many graphs that I found circulating on the internet. I soon discovered that compiling job growth data is a fairly daunting task.

If you go the website to find data on job growth, you hit a wall of meaningless information. The search engine is useless, and job growth figures are not mentioned in the A-Z index. After some research, I found out that job growth figures are called "nonfarm payroll employment".

Even then, the search engine and A-Z index is useless. You can find pdf files that mention nonfarm payroll employment, but usually they only give you figure for one month, or one year, and the data provided on these different reports is all compiled differently. It is almost impossible to find consistent information from one report or another.

I finally found this link, which has links to archived news releases for employment figures, but they only go back to 1994. They are not compiled in a usable fashion, you have to go into each press release and find the individual nonfarm payroll employment figures month by month.

It's interesting the colorful language used to describe these figures when they are lower or higher than the previous month. Also, nonfarm payroll employment figures are always listed on the first paragraph, except in a few cases when the figures were especially bad - in which case they are sheepishly buried on the second page of the press release.

Here is the job growth story that I wrote for the school newpaper:

When I submitted this story to the school newspaper, I had to explain it to the editor. She could not believe that I had gone to all of the trouble to compile the figures from the Department of Labor. To her credit, she did run it on the first page (below the fold), but the graph I made was not run to save space. I don't think anybody actually read the story anyway, which is understandable. It was a college newspaper after all.

These are the figures that I compiled for the story, updated with the most recent figures. (All of the figures that I used to compile the table below are the initial, unrevised nonfarm payroll employment figures found in the U.S. Department of Labor press releases.)

Hoover days are here again!

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At Wed Feb 20, 07:48:00 AM, Blogger Randal Graves said...

You completely left out the booming sector of professional small animal demolition.

At Wed Feb 20, 09:31:00 AM, Blogger Liberality said...

excellent post Dr. Z! But you're right about no one reading the college paper and that's too bad, especially when someone like you takes the time to do such detailed research.

At Wed Feb 20, 09:52:00 AM, Blogger Jess Wundrun said...

Wow. I used to have a debate with a right winger who said that all presidents fudge the unemployment numbers. Clinton did it, so what if Bush does it too.

Except that I remember businesses shutting down in the 90's because they could not find enough employees (places like restaurants-particularly in seasonally touristy areas). I know at my job we had a hard time finding good help because the choices for employees were so great. Large corporate employers don't mind the sluggish jobs market at all. Look at the rise of "freelance" employees who are forced to take jobs with no benefits and no commitment. You couldn't do that in a competitive jobs market.

Remember Reagan telling us that there were lots of jobs, seeing as how the Washington Post had 24 pages of jobs listed? Well, I do know that these days the classified ads section is much smaller than it was during Clinton. And that's not the fault of Craig's List either.

I am amazed at your tenacity in collecting this data. I've been frustrated that there isn't just a simple number that says 1 in 5 Americans is without a job. And then there are inner cities who no longer do manufacturing.....

At Wed Feb 20, 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Übermilf said...

Is anyone old enough to remember Bush the Elder? I know "Go-Go Boot" Frannie is. Was it him, or Quayle who pointed to the "Help Wanted" sign on the Burger King as proof that jobs were plentiful? As I recall, his disastrous handling of the economy cost him the election.

And just like Iraq, Younger has to outdo his daddy on tanking the economy...

"Too late to be known as Bush the First, he'll have to be known as Bush the worst..."

At Wed Feb 20, 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Dean Wormer said...


Apparently the housing bubble didn't translate into a jobs bubble. Go figure.

My own personal anecdote- I've been with the corporation I work for for 15 years. It's run very tightly from a financial standpoint and loved by Wall Street for that reason. This month was the first time in all of those 15 years that the company has begun laying people off.

ubermilf - Walt Disney's Robin Hood?

At Wed Feb 20, 11:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well luckily the Real Estate market is just going to keep expanding, but it's still holding the economy afloat....errr, hmmm.

But look at least we aren't wasting govt funds on a pointless war and have plenty of money to support the economy during this downturn...right, yeah.

I've saving up so I can buy one of those extra large refrigerator boxes as my retirement home!

At Wed Feb 20, 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Comrade Kevin said...

I too am looking forward to the time I can say with pride to my children, that I will have to sell them all for scientific experiments.

At Wed Feb 20, 09:59:00 PM, Anonymous Omnipotent Poobah said...

Well, if you're going to quibble with facts and figures...

At Thu Feb 21, 06:31:00 PM, Blogger Distributorcap said...

i bet a lot of those jobs were not CEOs for Merrill Lynch paying $160,000,000

job growth is one thing....and it has been bad to anemic

wage growth is another HUGE issue --- and that has been NEGATIVE since bush

more jobs, less pay -- sounds like the Bush way

At Fri Feb 22, 01:48:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Randal Graves: I'll have you know that Homeland Security agent Carl Spackler has been invaluable to my campaign. Cannonball!

Liberality: Thank you! It is still a boring subject to anybody under 30, though. I can understand why nobody read it.

Jess Wundrun: That's why these numbers are so important to look at, and especially in the context of population growth. I had forgotten all about Reagan reading the help wanted pages. What a great example of the crappy rhetoric used to pooh-pooh the sad truth.

Übermilf: Oh, I don't remember that! Thats hilarious! That's "ketchup is a vegtable" material!

Dean Wormer: Your corporation's situation is proof that a rising tide does not "float all boats."

MWB's World: Extra large refrigerator boxes! You are a genius! That's going to be America's next growth industry!

Comrade Kevin: A wise investment. Why waste money on a college education, when you can sell their kidneys!

Omnipotent Poobah: Details, details... I'm such a nit picker.

Distributorcap: Wage growth is also a huge issue, but I think that is already being addressed by Pelosi. I think that job growth is a different kind of issue, it shows that our country's economy is falling apart.

At Fri Feb 22, 10:13:00 AM, Blogger dguzman said...

I'll bet there are plenty of jobs building bombs for Boeing and getting drunk on watch--er, I mean working security--for Blackwater.

At Fri Feb 22, 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Swinebread said...

A few people have woken up to the fact that they are worse off... the fat-cats at the top and in the media still don't get that this threatens their security too.


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