That’s how the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined its story on last month’s decline in payroll jobs in its print edition:
It’s no longer a question of recession or not. Now it’s how deep and how long. Workers’ pink slips stacked ever higher in March as jittery employers slashed 80,000 jobs, the most in five years, and the national unemployment rate climbed to 5.1 percent. ***
The grim picture described by the Labor Department on Friday provided stark evidence of just how much the jobs market has buckled under the weight of the housing, credit and financial crises.
I’m sorry to see unemployment climb to 5.1%, but by historic standards, that’s not exactly a “grim picture.” For example, nothing like the unemployment rates that, along with runaway inflation, propelled Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. But I wondered about a more recent comparison. Do you remember 1996, when Bill Clinton swept to an easy re-election victory over Bob Dole, on the basis of what pretty much everyone in the press considered a near-perfect economy? No “pink slip nation” in 1996!
Actually, though, the unemployment rate in November 1996, when Clinton rode a soaring economy to victory, was 5.4%. That’s right–three tenths of a percent higher than the “grim picture” of a “pink slip nation” painted by this month’s unemployment report.
To be fair, the unemployment rate in November 1996, while higher than the current rate, was essentially flat, while March’s 5.1% unemployment represented an increase over the extraordinarily low rates that have characterized George Bush’s presidency. Still, it makes you wonder: is the current hysterical treatment of economic news the product of a rational evaluation of the data, or is it just one more sign of the media’s desire to put a Democrat in the White House in 2009?
PAUL adds: Maybe the Star Tribune was thinking about all the pink slips it has handed out recently.