The national unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in two and a half years, falling 0.4 percent to a total of 8.6 percent of the population looking for work, according to Friday's report from the Labor Department. Reuters reports that "Nonfarm payrolls increased 120,000 last month ... in line with economists' expectations for a gain of 122,000. The relative strength of the report was also bolstered by revisions to the employment counts for September and October to show 72,000 more jobs created than previously reported." Not a bad bit of news after a couple mixed reports in recent days. Still, as the Associated Press points, "one reason the unemployment rate fell so much was because roughly 315,000 people gave up looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed."
While the political press is heralding the drop in unemployment to 8.6 percent as a victory for President Obama, the business press has a decidedly less sanguine view of today's jobless numbers. The source of the disagreement? For the politics reporters, the headline is all that matters. Notice the disparity in the reports.
In the business press, New York Times economics reporter Catherine Rampell writes a rather unequivocal lede: "The United States logged yet another month of mediocre job growth in November." She adds, "The rate fell partly because more workers got jobs, but also because about 315,000 workers dropped out of the labor force, and the jobless rate counts only people who are actively looking for work." Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal noted the lackluster numbers right in his headline. "JOBS REPORT WEAK BUT UNEMPLOYMENT RATE PLUNGES TO 8.6%." As he notes, it was a mixed bag. "The good news is that the unemployment rate fell from 9% to 8.6%," he writes. "The bad news is that non-farm payrolls only grew by 120K, which is below the 125K that was expected On the private payrolls side, growth of 140K was slightly below the 150K expected." Meanwhile, CNN Money's Annalyn Censky noted the economy was still in the tank. "Overall, the labor market still has a long way to go to recover from the financial crisis. Less than a third of all the 8.8 million jobs shed have since been recovered. A whopping 13.3 million people remain unemployed and 43% of those have been out of work for more than six months."
In the political press, we have a much sunnier story. Josh Boak at Politico writes, "In a positive sign for President Barack Obama, the unemployment rate surprisingly dropped to 8.6 percent in November - the lowest rate in two-and-a-half years - as the country’s economy flashed signs of strength amid uneasiness about a broader global downturn." The Hill's Ian Swanson put the numbers in the same terms. "[This will be seen as good news for President Obama, who is counting on an improving economy to win a second term in office." Even Swanson seems to acknowledge that the reason for the disagreement seems to the importance placed on a headline rather than the hard numbers. "While the huge drop in unemployment from 9 percent to 8.6 percent comes largely because of a drop in the number of people looking for work, the headline number is good for the White House."
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