The NYT and the Strong Economy: Another “Yes, But….”

January 24th, 2006 1:10 PM

The Times again looks for holes in the strong U.S. economy, this time on the front page of Sunday’s special Job Market section, in a report by Eduardo Porter, “Pockets of Concern Slow a Strong U.S. Economy.” The caption to an accompanying chart emphasizes “A Weak Jobs Recovery.”

Times readers may find the article’s tone familiar. Here’s Porter from Sunday:

“If you believe most statistics, the national economy is doing quite well. Corporate profits are soaring. Consumer spending and business investment have been growing at a healthy clip. In the third quarter of last year, output expanded at an annual pace of about 4.1 percent. And private-sector economists are expecting growth above 3.5 percent this year. Yet, amid the vim and vigor, there is a weak spot that does not quite mesh with these readings. More than four years since the economy emerged from recession in November of 2001, businesses are still not hiring much. Employment grew by a mere 3.5 million jobs, or 2.7 percent, in 49 months' worth of this economic expansion. Last year, the job market grew by 1.5 percent.”

For comparison, here’s the beginning of a November 30 front-page article by Vikas Bajaj:

“Gasoline is cheaper than it was before Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans. Consumer confidence jumped last month and new-home sales hit a record. The stock market has been rising. Even the nation's beleaguered factories seem headed for a happy holiday season. By most measures, the economy appears to be doing fine. No, scratch that, it appears to be booming. But as always with the United States economy, it is not quite that simple. For every encouraging sign, there is an explanation.”

By sheer coincidence, every explanation by Bajaj suggested that the economy wasn’t actually all that hot, despite what the numbers showed.

Back to Porter on Sunday, who similarly uses arcane interpretations of statistics to suggest the Bush economy isn’t so great:

“The unemployment rate, the most frequently used measure of labor-force vitality, dipped to 4.9 percent in December. This is the lowest it has been in more than 30 years except for the prosperous late 1990's, when it fell briefly below 4 percent. But compared with similar moments in the nation's economic history, this shot of job growth appears less brisk than at first blush. In the 49 months after the recession of the early 1990's, employment jumped almost 8 percent. It surged by more than 13 percent in the same period after the recession of the early 80's.”

Porter goes to an unlabeled liberal for vindication:

“In fact, wage growth has slowed. According to Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, growth in the median wage dropped to 2.4 percent in 2004 and 2005, from about 3 percent, on average, in 2002 and 2003, the first two years after the end of the recession.”

For more New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.