Many times, when I post one of these rants about the way reporters write about statistics (especially statistics about the economy), I refer (negatively) to the “on-the-other-hand” crutch nearly all business-related stories now include. History buffs will recognize this as a reference to a Harry Truman quote: “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, On the one hand on the other.” Here’s today’s mini-rant:
This morning, the NYTimes.com is reporting on unemployment (or is it employment?) numbers that came out this morning. Here are the first three paragraphs:
The nation’s employers eliminated 51,000 jobs in July, the seventh consecutive contraction in the labor market, as the unemployment rate reached a four-year high, signs that the pressure on business owners and consumers is likely to continue.
Still, the decline in the job market has softened since the spring. The number of layoffs was less than the 75,000 that economists had expected, and the government said that businesses cut fewer jobs in June and May than previously reported.
Still, the nation’s unemployment rate has steadily moved higher. In July, it rose to 5.7 percent from 5.5 percent in June, its highest level since March 2004.
I’m a reader and I would like the New York Times to help me understand what those unemployment numbers mean. The article says unemployment has reached a four-year high — that sounds bad. But that’s not as bad a economists predicted — that sounds good. The nation’s unemployment rate has steadily grown — that sounds bad. But the government says that the previous two months were not as bad as they had earlier reported — that sounds good.
The only thing for certain is this: If you’re unemployed, it’s bad.
Still, I’m confused.