The Labor Department announced today that employers added 243,000 payroll jobs in February. The market is up on the news, with the Dow over 11,000 once again. So the economy continues to hum along.
It occurs to me that the economy is a useful benchmark for interpreting public opinion polling. One of the things that have frustrated us in recent years is the fact that poll respondents consistently underrate the economy, describing it as mediocre or poor, when in fact it’s been good or excellent. I don’t know how to explain this other than by attributing poll respondents’ opinions about the economy, at least in part, to misleading reporting. I think that’s true, of course, across a broad range of issues. For example, selective reporting about Iraq has given most people an unduly negative view of our progress there.
What’s different about the economy is that, unlike most issues, we have lots of objective data that have been maintained, on a reasonably consistent basis, for many years. So, when inflation is under 3%, unemployment is under 5%, millions of jobs are being created, GDP growth is strong and consistent and incomes are rising, we can say, objectively, that poll respondents who rate the economy mediocre to poor are wrong. That is strong evidence, I think, that incomplete and biased reporting is driving Americans’ perceptions down on this issue. It is reasonable to believe that the same thing is happening on other issues where press coverage is relentlessly negative, as well.
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