Are we actually having a conversation about jobs?

Posted by TGarland on 11/06/2013

The Jobs Report. It comes once a month (barring a government shutdown) and is one of the country's most watched economic indicators.

Reporters and organizations like the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) wait for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to release data on employment for the previous month and revised data for the past three.

And a flurry of articles and responses come shortly after. But is there a true conversation about jobs that surrounds this report? Are we talking about manufacturing jobs -- a sector of the economy that has been hailed by politicians and economists alike as the foundation of a robust economy?

We asked ourselves this after the September jobs report was released 18 days late, thanks to the government shutdown.

Because of the shutdown's economic ripple effects, the September data will be the last “clean” jobs report of the year. So, back to the question: What is being reported? We examined 20 stories on the jobs report and considered the coverage of five points: revised July and August numbers, manufacturing jobs added, high-wage and secure jobs, President Obama’s one million manufacturing jobs campaign pledge, and personal stories of the unemployed or employers.

Of the 20 examined stories, we picked several noteworthy articles. Here’s how they stacked up.

Gold Medal: The Pittsburgh Tribune Review took the top spot for its coverage of the last jobs report because it was the only source to note that revised numbers from July and August show that manufacturing job creation has stalled:

Manufacturing employment rose by only 2,000, or just enough to offset the jobs lost in July and August combined...’It's clear manufacturing job creation has been flat-lining,’ said Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

Silver Medal: The Associated Press, MSNBC, and the Washington Post get some dap for noting that growing retail and service sector jobs are typically low-wage and low-security positions, and not the kind of employment that will lay the foundation for a strong economy.

Bronze Medal: NBC News, the New York Times, and Northwest Indiana Times deserve a nod for going behind the numbers and reporting on stories of the unemployed and their search for work. We have, too: AAM has been compiling #MyJobsReport, a collection of personal stories from Americans looking for jobs in a tight economy.

DQ’d: CNN mentioned the raw data from the past month and nothing else. Not much of a conversation.

Analysis: The raw data is always reported, revised numbers from the previous two months are mentioned (sometimes), and each outlet summarizes the state of the economy.

But more of a breakdown is needed, especially when it comes to the #mfg numbers. The sector added 2,000 jobs in September, but lost 2,000 jobs in the revised July and August numbers, and no one is holding President Obama accountable for his campaign pledge to help create 1 million manufacturing jobs by the end of his second term. Coverage of stories from the unemployed are rare. 

In an age of manufactured political crises it's not often that the media talks about jobs, save for the attention given to the jobs report. But for Americans still looking for steady work, the jobs report is more than a bump in the news cycle. These people sometimes get an iota of attention on a day like this, but not much else. Their stories deserve to be heard. The jobs report can't end at the raw numbers.

Image by Flickr user Mouser NerdBot, following Creative Commons guidelines.

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