When Friday's dismal job report was released, traders in the Chicago pit began chanting, "Kerry, Kerry." But apologists for President Bush's economic policies are frantically spinning the bad news. Here's a guide to their techniques.
First, they talk about recent increases in the number of jobs, not the fact that payroll employment is still far below its previous peak, and even further below anything one could call full employment. Because job growth has finally turned positive, some economists (who probably know better) claim that prosperity has returned - and some partisans have even claimed that we have the best economy in 20 years.
But job growth, by itself, says nothing about prosperity: growth can be higher in a bad year than a good year, if the bad year follows a terrible year while the good year follows another good year. I've drawn a chart of job growth for the 1930's; there was rapid nonfarm job growth (8.1 percent) in 1934, a year of mass unemployment and widespread misery - but that year was slightly less terrible than 1933.
So have we returned to prosperity? No: jobs are harder to find, by any measure, than they were at any point during Bill Clinton's second term. The job situation might have improved somewhat in the past year, but it's still not good.
Second, the apologists give numbers without context. President Bush boasts about 1.5 million new jobs over the past 11 months. Yet this was barely enough to keep up with population growth, and it's worse than any 11-month stretch during the Clinton years.
Third, they cherry-pick any good numbers they can find.
The shocking news that the economy added only 32,000 jobs in July comes from payroll data. Experts say what Alan Greenspan said in February: "Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow." Another measure of employment, from the household survey, fluctuates erratically; for example, it fell by 265,000 in February, a result nobody believes. Yet because July's household number was good, suddenly administration officials were telling reporters to look at that number, not the more reliable payroll data.
... Paulie, you forgot the best part -- remember all their job creation predictions? Every single one ridiculously overoptimistic and flattened under the wheels of cruel reality like yesterday's roadkill.