In Unemployment Claims Report, AP's Rugaber Largely Cleans Up His Act, But With One Big Bust

Is AP reporter Christopher Rugaber taking yours truly's admonishments to heart? Either he is, or there were a number of odd coincidences in his reports today (early; later) on the small drop in initial unemployment claims (to 422,000, from an upwardly revised 428,000 the previous week) reported by the Department of Labor this morning.

Last week (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I criticized Rugaber's unemployment claims coverage for repeating for the umpteenth time that weekly claims peaked over two years ago at 659,000 during the recession, and suggested that discussing what has happened in the past three months (drops to under 400,000 in March followed by significant rises to consistently well above 400,000 in April and May) might be a little more relevant.

Lo and behold, check out the first few paragraphs from Rugaber's longer 12:56 p.m. rendition. They appear strangely responsive to last week's critique, but there is one significant factual error (in bold):

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, but applications remain stuck at a level that signals weak job growth.


The number of applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 422,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the third drop in four weeks. But the declines follow much bigger increases in April.


Applications dropped to 375,000 in late February - a level consistent with sustainable job growth. But for the past eight weeks, applications have stayed above 400,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the second straight week but remained high at 425,500.


Elevated unemployment applications are the latest sign that the economy has hit a soft patch after a strong start this year. Many economists expect May's jobs report will show hiring slowed last month. The report will be released on Friday.

The bolded sentence is obviously erroneous, unless one considers the economy's annualized 1.8% growth during the first quarter as "strong." As seen in the graphic below, it isn't even strong by the weak standards of the Obama economy, and it's a joke compared to the post-recession recovery under Ronald Reagan:


Perhaps the AP reporter meant to refer to "employment growth" instead of "the economy" as getting off to a strong start. If so, Rugaber's case would have been a bit more defensible, but "strong" is a relative term. Compared to the Reagan post-recession job performance, the current economy's reported seasonally adjusted job gains so far this year pale in comparison, as seen below:


To make clear what the chart shows:

  • As far as all jobs are concerned, during post-recession months 19 through 22 (April through July, 1984), the economy under Reagan added over 1.36 million seasonally adjusted jobs, bringing its post-recession total to over 5.6 million. The economy under Obama during post-recession months 19 through 22 has added 768,000 jobs -- roughly 56% of what was seen under Reagan -- bringing its post-recession total to 535,000. That's over 5 million jobs less than under Reagan, and despite a workforce that is about 40% larger.
  • In the private sector, the Reagan economy in post-recession months 19 through 22 added 1.22 million seasonally adjusted jobs, bringing its post-recession total to over 5.35 million. The Obama economy has added 854,000 such jobs in months 19 through 22 -- 70% of what was seen under Reagan -- bringing its post-recession total to 926,000, cumulatively trailing Reagan by over 4.4 million jobs.

To match the Reagan economy's performance during the four-month periods in question, the Obama economy would have needed to add about 1.9 million overall and 1.7 million private-sector jobs. To match the Reagan economy's overall post-recession performance, the Obama economy would have needed to add about 7.8 million overall and 7.5 million private-sector jobs. What it has actually achieved is obviously far, far less.

So you'll have to excuse me, Chris, for not accepting your characterization of this year's economy through April as "strong," even if you limit the definition to employment growth.

Wrapping up an open item: Both Rugaber's early and late reports on unemployment claims today do not make reference to the March 2009 recessionary peak of 659,000 initial weekly claims. Imagine that occurring the week after I point out how foolish it is to continue doing so. What a coincidence.

By the way, to emphasize how much more difficult the economic environment Reagan faced really was, there were three weeks during 1982 (Sept. 18 - 680,000; Sept. 25 - 671,000; Oct. 2 - 695,000) when initial weekly claims exceeded AP's hopefully retired 2009 figure of 659,000 (to confirm, go here and select the appropriate years). That would be the equivalent of over 1 million weekly claims today for three consecutive weeks. Those three weeks in 1982 were part of a string of 14 consecutive weeks when initial claims topped 600,000.

So with the exception of the "strong growth" bust, this week's Rugaber report on unemployment claims is a significant improvement. Now if we can only get him to start using the same term -- "initial claims" -- as the Department of Labor. Well, now that I've noted it, maybe we'll see it next week.

Cross-posted at

Labeling Bias by Omission Media Bias Debate Government Agencies Unemployment Business Coverage Economy Christopher Rugaber

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