Unemployment Rate Falls, But Times Is Still Pushing Pessimism

Describing a September in which the unemployment rate fell: "For American workers, the job market is starting to look a lot less inviting."

Less than a month before the congressional elections, the Times is still going negative on the strong U.S. economy, a trend exemplified bySaturday's Business sectionstory fromEduardo Porter, "Job Growth Was Slack Last Month."

"For American workers, the job market is starting to look a lot less inviting.

"The Labor Department reported yesterday that employment grew by just 51,000 jobs in September, adding slack job growth to the emerging tableau of an economy gradually slowed by higher interest rates, expensive energy and a sputtering housing sector.

"In the last three years, the American economy has added about six million jobs. Unemployment, which dipped to 4.6 percent last month, has fallen to the lowest point since early 2001. And in recent months, the wages of ordinary workers have finally started to increase enough to slightly outpace inflation.

"But the new government data, said Joseph LaVorgna, chief United States economist at Deutsche Bank, suggests that 'the best news on job creation is behind us.'"

Porter reluctantly allows:

"Still, the job market may not be quite as weak as the monthly number suggested. Not only did unemployment - based on a separate survey of households that showed more robust employment gains - fall slightly to 4.6 percent from 4.7 percent in August, but paychecks also recorded some of their biggest gains so far this year.

"Hourly wages for regular workers, excluding managers, rose 4 percent in September compared with a year earlier. This was the same as in August but higher than any other month since June 2001 - when workers were still benefiting from inertial wage gains coming out of the Internet-fueled economy of the late 1990's."

The Times looked at the economy a bit differently backin the late 1990's -the Clinton years. Reporter Sylvia Nasar twice used the phrase "great American jobs machine" in her economic coverage. Here's the opening to her July 3, 1999 story, topped by the promotional headline, "After a Month's Lull, Employers Report Strong Job Gains for June."

"After idling in May, the great American job engine is purring again. Despite another big drop in factory jobs, the nation's employers added more than a quarter of a million new workers to their payrolls in June. The overall gain, of 268,000, followed a decline of 5,000 in May. Nearly two of every three Americans were at work last month, a record. And the pay of rank-and-file workers jumped 5 cents an hour, to $13.23."

And this was during a month when the unemployment rate actually rose a tenth of a percentage point. But Nasar quoted a Clinton administration person who said that was nothing to worry about:

"But Katherine Abraham, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which issues the monthly jobs report, said the uptick was not statistically meaningful and called the unemployment rate essentially unchanged."

Would the Bush administration get that sort of break from the Times? Not so far as TimesWatch can tell, six years into his administration.