Those looking for evidence that there is a move afoot in the establishment press to lower the bar for whatever economic accomplishments might be accomplished during the Obama administration will be interested in how the Associated Press's report on the government's June jobs report defined "normal" unemployment.
Perhaps it's valid for reporters Jeannine Aversa and Christopher Rugaber to refer to 6% unemployment as "normal," if by that they mean "typical non-recessionary" or "long-term average" unemployment. But I couldn't help but remember that during the Bush 43 and Reagan years, unemployment rates just above and occasionally even below that level were described by wire service reporters and other journalists as "persistent unemployment" -- i.e., decidedly not "normal." I quickly found several AP and other reports from those eras that confirmed my recall of what is now a demonstrated double standard.
Here is the opening sentence from the AP report, followed by the term-redefining paragraph (bold is mine):
A second straight month of lackluster hiring by American businesses is sapping strength from the economic rebound.
... Unemployment is expected to stay above 9 percent through the midterm elections in November. And the Fed predicts joblessness could still be as high as 7.5 percent two years from now. Normal is considered closer to 6 percent, and economists say it will probably take until the middle of this decade to achieve that.
"Closer to 6%" seems to imply that "normal" is really "slightly above" that level.
It's legitimate to question whether there has really been an economic rebound when people who are looking for work aren't finding it and so many others have abandoned their quest. The truth is that the number of people reported as working according to the Establishment Survey in yesterday's Employment Situation Report is lower than it was a year ago, when the recession as normal people define it ended.
It's also worth remembering, assisted by an updated version of the indispensable chart from Innocent Bystanders, that the administration predicted that its stimulus plan would return the economy to the AP's new "normal" by the first quarter of 2012, three years earlier than "the middle of this decade":
Here are some previous examples of situations described by the establishment press as "persistent unemployment":
- October 7, 2003 -- Both an AP story and an item at USA Today on California's recall election told readers that "Californians face an $8 billion state budget deficit, persistent unemployment and struggling schools." The Golden State's unemployment rate in September 2003 was 6.4%.
- June 13, 2003 -- A Reuters report on consumer sentiment relayed that "Consumer sentiment deteriorated sharply in early June, suggesting persistent unemployment is taking its toll on Americans' expectations for the economy's future." The national unemployment rate in May 2003 was 6.1%.
- April 4, 2004 -- A Fox News item to which AP contributed claimed that "there is evidence that persistent unemployment, despite other signs of a recovering economy, is taking its toll on the president's popularity." On April 2, the government reported a national unemployment rate of 5.7%.
- Going back further, in a March 29, 1987 book review at the New York Times ("No Time for Radicals"), Michael Janeway wrote this of author Robert Lekachman: "Under Ronald Reagan, the author writes, no god but that of the marketplace is worshiped, yielding 'privatization, militarization, persistent unemployment, de-unionization, middle-class shrinkage, and the triumph of plutocracy.' Mr. Lekachman's cases in point, when backed by fact and figure, make for an intelligently passionate brief against the Reagan Administration." Janeway didn't dispute the factual accuracy of Lekachman's claim about "persistent unemployment, which at the time was 6.5%. Gosh, who knew that "normal" was only a half-point or less below that of "a mean society"?
But what was once "persistent unemployment" is now "normal." No double standard there (/sarcasm).
Oh, wait a minute. Maybe the AP pair is subtly informing us that as long as the Obama administration is in power and Democrats control Congress, "persistent unemployment" will be "normal." If so, guys, thanks for letting us know.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.