April 1984 was the U.S. economy's 19th post-recession month while Ronald Reagan was President. It was a month during which the government initially reported that the unemployment rate remained at 7.7%, while the number of jobs added was 269,000. By the time the government made all its subsequent revisions over the next few years, the final jobs-added figure was 363,000.
On May 5, 1984, in an example of what Tim Graham at NewsBusters cited on Wednesday of the press's poor economic reporting during the Reagan era, the New York Times's Robert D. Hershey Jr. (link is to Proquest Database article copy, presented for fair use and discussion purposes) did what he could to downplay the good news, highlight the bad news, and create an impression that the good times might not last long, The report doesn't have the intense negativity found in many press reports during the George W. Bush era, but there is definitely an undercurrent of surprise and disappointment that things were going so swimmingly:
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- Start with the headline. Reported employment growth was 269,000 (see bottom of third column). The Times creatively rounded down in its headline to 250,000. Since when does one round down to the nearest 50,000?
- Hershey seemed genuinely stunned by the "the continued surprisingly strong growth in employment." Why there was any element of surprise is a mystery to me. According to final figures from that era at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1984 was the eighth consecutive month showing job growth of over 200,000, and the 12th in the past 13.
- In a fit of what looks to be wishful thinking, the Time reporter wrote that "the economic recovery that began in late 1982 is not yet running out of steam" -- as if it should have been, but for some reason wasn't.
- Hershey also alluded to "recent signs of (a) slowdown." Slowdown, schmodown. Final growth stats from that era indicate that first quarter 1984 growth was an annualized 8.0%; the second quarter came in at 7.1%. We could use that kind of "slowdown" right about now.
- And of course, great news couldn't be reported without citing a factor that might come along and ruin things. The growth in payrolls "was cited as likely to put additional upward pressure on interest rates." Although the Federal Reserve did raise its prime rate of interest shortly thereafter from 12% to 12.5%, by the end of the year the rate was down to 10.75%. Meanwhile, final figures indicate that the economy added over 2.3 million more jobs by year's end.
By contrast, as noted this morning (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), a pair of Associated Press reporters described a combination of a 0.4-point drop in the unemployment rate to 9.0% and the addition of 36,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in January 2011, the 19th post-recession month under President Obama, as "the latest sign that the economic recovery is picking up speed" and worked to create an impression of positive momentum: "But the swift decline in the rate could also lift confidence at a time when businesses and individuals are already spending more money, fueling more hiring and still-more spending."
As this graphic shows, through the first six quarters of the post-recession Reagan Era, the economy added over 4.2 million jobs (over 4.1 million in the private sector). In the first six post-recession quarters under Obama, pending possible future adjustments, the economy lost 264,000 jobs, while gaining a "whopping" 44,000 in the private sector. In Month 19, as illustrated in the post, the Reagan era's lead over the era of Obama lengthened by over 300,000 (363,000 vs. 36,000).
Almost a week before Hershey's employment report treatment appeared, William Serrin at the Times wrote a 1,761-word report on the difficulties the long-term unemployed were enduring ("Plight of Unemployed Goes Beyond Figures"). Extensive establishment press treatments such as like Serrin's have been very rare during the past two years. I wonder why?
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.