It's already being called a “Goldilocks jobs report.”
The U.S. federal government announced last week that our economy created 223,000 new employment positions during the month of April, and the average national unemployment rate is now down to a “seven-year low” of 5.4%.
[sharequote align="center"]America's economic outlook can improve, but won't until we choose better leaders and policies.[/sharequote]
Analysts say that the report is good enough to keep the economy chugging along, but it's not so extraordinarly good that it would give the Federal Reserve a reason to raise interest rates anytime soon (hence the “Goldilocks” connotation). Thus, it's the perfect combination for Wall Street - and if stock traders on Wall Street are happy, we all should be happy (somebody please cue the Lego Movie theme song “Everything Is Awesome”)...
Yet if any of us outside of Manhattan are still serious about prosperity – and if America still cares about work, responsibility, and our nation's economic sustainability – we'll need to sober-up and recognize that everything is not-so-awesome, at least not broadly across the nation, and that things won't likely improve until we become more discerning about what is happening to us.
If you're ready to face the music, consider making these changes now:
Stop Buying-In To the Mainstream Media Spin
Just as our economy is suffering at the hands of a centrally-planned government (the antics of federal bureuacrats are stifiling economic activity in nearly all corners of the nation right now), so also is the media industry suffering with its own central planning.
To the extent that economic news is a fairly narrow “niche” genre of media these days, most of it emanates from writers, editors and producers in places like New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Each of these cities are, in their own respective ways, epicenters of global economic activity, and the regional economies in these cities are all doing pretty well. Thus, when reporters are told by the Department of Commerce or the Bureau of Labor Statistics that things are going great, it largely matches with the reporters' immediate experience.
Add to this regional myopia the reality that young journalists aren't taught to think critically or to question authority these days (even iconic if not liberal reporter Bob Woodward has been bashed by his own profession because of his old-school inclination to question the government), so much as they are taught to create “narratives” that strengthen and nurture the correct people groups while weakening the “wrong” people groups. The narrative of robust job growth presumably encourages the downtrodden while at the same time it affirms the notion that President Barack Obama is a great blessing to the world, so it must be “all good” for a news story.
A now hiring sign is posted in the window of a clothing store on June 6, 2014 in San Francisco, California. According the Labor Department, the hiring pace remained strong for the fourth straight month with employers adding 217,000 jobs in May. The national unemployment rate stands at 6.3 percent. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
In those moments when economic realities unmistakably collide with the mirage of universal prosperity, some media professionals do rhetorical gymnastics to explain reality away.
Last month, for example, when it was discovered that our economy shrank in the first quarter of this year despite what our government had projected and reported, a New York Times contributor hypothesized that first quarter economic data just naturally tends to be negative, and should not be regarded as worrisome. That wasn't nearly as disgraceful as last May's report from CNN Money wherein a journalist explained that, yes, first quarter economic growth had crashed, but “it's not a big deal” (that reporter also happens to be a professor of journalism at one of New York's many government-run universities).
The narrative of a supposed economic recovery feels good, but economic growth and prosperity do not exist in the ways that some would like us to believe. Thoughtful Americans who want a brighter future for all should reject the “narrative” media and begin searching for actual facts.
Start Scrutinizing The “New Jobs”
When media outlets celebrate 223,000 new jobs being created in a month, those of us in flyover country must realize that what is being reported to us is one single data point which is very limited in scope, and is of a quantitative nature only. This is to say that while the number 223,000 sounds like a terrific “quantity” of jobs, the number tells us nothing about the quality of these jobs.
Regardless of what the media does, thoughtful Americans need to ask some specific questions: Are these new jobs part time, or full time jobs? What sorts of wages do these jobs offer? Are they jobs that offer long-term advancement opportunities, or are they entry-level jobs that pay poorly and offer a limited future?
For the past several years, a disproportionate number of the jobs entailed within our government's monthly reports are part time positions. Likewise, our nation's current economic policies are creating far more low-paying jobs than higher-paying jobs that can sustain a household or family.
Further, Americans need to scrutinize our government's reporting of “unemployment,” and the ways in which it is measured. The national average unemployment rate has been declining in the past several months, yet many Americans likely don't know that one can be fully unemployed, and yet not even be counted as unemployed.
Rather than focusing on the official “unemployment rate,” Americans need to begin examining the “labor force participation rate.” By an economist's definition, you are “in the labor force” if you A) hold a full-time job; B) hold a part-time job; or C) are searching for a job. On the other hand, if you're fully checked-out and have completely quit trying to work, you're officially “out of the labor force” - and when you're out of the labor force, you're out of our government's economic picture altogether and don't get counted as a part of the “unemployment” rate.
That's why, despite the news media's celebration of 223,000 new jobs last month, nearly 94 million Americans – almost one-third of our country's entire population – aren't working at all. The bleak labor force participation rate looks even worse for certain categories of Americans: a record-high of 56 million women age 16 and older are out of the workforce, while a record-high of 12 million black Americans are checked-out.
America's economic outlook can improve, but probably won't until we choose better leaders and better policies. And making better choices likely won't occur until we come to terms with these difficult facts.
Feature Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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