Labor Report Highlights Need For Media To Focus On Jobs, Not Deficits

Blog ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE

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The lackluster September unemployment report highlights the need for a focus on job creation, a priority that is likely to be ignored by media.

On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of September, which found that payrolls rose 148,000, edging the official unemployment rate down from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. While the report found positive gains in the labor market -- a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis -- job creation fell far short of economists' expectations, which predicted 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.

Media responded to the report by noting that it was generally uneventful, with job creation slowing from previous months.  

The underperforming labor market, identified in this month's report, presents an opportunity for the media to focus on job creation and economic growth.

Unfortunately, this opportunity is likely to be squandered in favor of promoting discussion on spending cuts and deficit reduction, as evidenced in past reporting.

Media's focus on deficits and debt instead of economic growth and jobs has long been criticized by economists. Previous coverage of budget negotiations show that media place overwhelming focus on the need to reduce spending, often leaving the more pressing need for economic growth largely unmentioned.

Indeed, this issue has already been raised by economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a post on The New York Times Economix blog, Bernstein expressed fears that after concluding the 16-day long government shutdown, the media will undoubtedly pivot focus to deficit and debt reduction. Bernstein explains that the debate over spending and deficit reduction will crowd out discussion on the more immediate jobs crisis:

Imagine instead that the politicians turned not to the budget deficit but to the jobs deficit, the infrastructure deficit, to poverty, wage stagnation, immobility and inequality.  Along with a budget conference -- and don't get me wrong; I'm glad they're talking -- imagine there was an economic conference to make recommendations on what's really hurting the country, which I assure you is not our fiscal situation.  That's taking care of itself for the short term, as is always the case after a recession (deficits go up in recessions, for obvious reasons).

[...]

I'm surely going to jump into the budget debate myself any minute now, but before I do, I wanted to point out that this is not the debate we should be having. It's the preferred debate of those who seek to shrink the role of government, to undermine social insurance, to reduce needed investments in public goods and human capital, and to protect the concentrated wealth of the top few percent.

Bernstein's fear of undue focus on debt and deficits has already been realized.

Reacting to the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, Fox News host Megyn Kelly claimed it wasn't a "win for the American people" because it didn't reduce the national debt. CNN reported that the shutdown deal shouldn't be celebrated because it "kicks the can [of budget negotiations] down the road." Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore immediately declared the preservation of sequestration cuts -- which will continue to reduce spending and deficits -- the "winner" of the shutdown, and the Journal preemptively told Republicans to stand firm on sequestration cuts in any budget deal in an October 13 editorial.

If history and early reports are any indication, media will continue their habit of promoting deficit reduction as budget negotiations take place. 

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