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NBC, CBS Blame Weak Jobs Report on Weather, Economists Disagree

Networks and other media give same excuse as Labor Secretary, but right and left wing experts dispute weather claim.

Many people had high hopes for the December jobs report with economists’ forecasting job gains of around 200,000. The report, which was released Jan. 10, showed only 74,000 jobs added in December.

That was bad news, especially after 241,000 jobs were added in November. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent, to 6.7 percent, primarily because of workforce dropouts.  

The administration and two out of three broadcast networks blamed weather for the disappointing report, but both liberal and conservative economists dismissed this explanation.

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” that “weather is undeniably a factor,” on Jan. 10. That evening, CBS “Evening News” and NBC “Nightly News” parroted this explanation. However, economists that spoke with the MRC’s Business and Media Institute dismissed the notion.

“Evening News,” Senior Business Correspondent Anthony Mason called bad weather “a big factor in December hiring,” quoting an unnamed economist who said “Job growth got snowed in.” NBC’s “Nightly News” also promoted the weather’s impact on jobs data, with anchor Brian Williams saying “the unusual cold weather may have been a factor in this.”

ABC’s “World News” spent only 22 seconds on the jobs report mentioning both the job gains and the change in unemployment rate, but failed to mention the amount of workers leaving the workforce. Weather was not mentioned by “World News.”

Each of these segments was broadcast after Perez appeared on CNBC and co-host Carl Quintanilla asked “How much of this had something to do with the weather?”

He responded, “Oh, I think the weather is a factor,” before delivering an anecdote about his own experience with the weather over the holidays. He concluded “weather is undeniably a factor.”

This claim that weather caused the weak jobs data was disputed by liberal and conservative economists. Dean Baker, co-director of left-wing Center for Economic and Policy Research, told BMI he would “totally dismiss” the weather explanation and pointed out that the BLS adjusts their data for seasonal variations.

James Sherk, the senior policy analyst in labor economics at the conservation Heritage Foundation, also took issue with the weather explanation. He called it “grasping for an explanation” when he spoke with BMI.

During the week of Dec. 8, when the BLS surveyed to gather the employment data, national temperatures were 5.5 degrees below the normal December temperature. But according to Business Insider, Brian Jones, senior economist for the financial analysis firm Societe Generale, said that “precipitation has a much bigger impact on nonfarm payrolls than temperature.” Jones found that “conditions were unusually dry over much of the continental U.S. during that period.”

In addition to CBS and NBC, many other news outlets were playing the blame game too. The Wall Street Journal’s Kathleen Madigan urged readers to “Blame Mother Nature,” saying “273,000 people couldn’t get to work because of bad weather in December.” The New York Times’ Nelson D. Schwartz claimed that “wintry weather, however, may have exaggerated the weakness” of the jobs market.

Some took other tactics to try to explain away the disappointing report. Mark Zandi of Moody Analytics, argued on “Squawk Box” that they would be revised upwards in later months, as is common with outlying data. Zandi told CNBC viewers that “Next month this will be – we’re gonna get the benchmark revisions and they’ll be revised up and away.”

Sherk was not so confident. While he acknowledged that the December data “may be an outlier,” he told BMI, “I highly doubt you will see revisions of that magnitude.”

— Sean Long is Staff Writer at the Media Research Center. Follow Sean Long on Twitter.