After months of economic coverage narrowly focused on deficits, a new jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reinforces the need for the media conversation to shift toward growth. The alternative approach would require journalists and pundits to follow in the footsteps Rush Limbaugh laid out today when he insisted the BLS report says the opposite of what it does.
In their coverage of budget negotiations, the debt ceiling, and the discourse between professional economists, the media have helped enable further damaging austerity by focusing on deficits rather than the need for economic growth. The last week of January now features two new, official data points that contradict the longstanding media narrative on deficits, spending, and job growth in the public and private sectors. Mainstream media outlets can now choose between coverage that's guided by data, and coverage that's guided by Rush Limbaugh, who today claimed that “This administration is shrinking the private sector” in a segment on the new BLS report:
Of course, Limbaugh has it exactly backwards. The BLS report on January job growth contains the official benchmark revisions to monthly data from as far back as 2008. The BLS figures had previously shown that the private sector gained 4.1 million net jobs as the government slashed payrolls by 645,000 from mid-2009 through the end of 2012. The new numbers show an even broader divergence. The private economy has added 4,968,000 net jobs since the economy began growing again, and the public sector has lost a net 721,000 workers in that same period.
These numbers demonstrate that government austerity has lopped nearly 15 percent off private-sector job growth over the course of the recovery. The news comes on the heels of the Bureau of Economic Analysis' report that a collapse in government consumption helped put the economy into reverse last quarter, despite strengthening private-sector components of GDP. On his blog, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman notes that President George W. Bush's recovery benefited from steadily increasing government consumption. But with the Tea Party movement and the attendant focus from conservatives on reducing deficits, President Obama's recovery has been hampered by steadily falling public-sector consumption for the past two years.
Even without growing government's direct contributions to demand -- just by keeping them flat for the past two years -- the economic recovery would look much stronger. America would be hitting a recovery milestone, with 5,000,000 new jobs since the recession ended, if not for the deficit hawks. Their success in pushing austerity prematurely into the policymaking conversation has cost even more public-sector jobs than previously thought, while private-sector growth has been much more robust.