Maybe we should have a little sympathy for the folks at Fox News. It has to be tough to constantly have to take good news and try to turn it into something else. But that is exactly what they are doing every time the government releases a new jobs report.
When the October jobs numbers were released early last month, Fox reported it, then “Fox & Friends” host Elisabeth Hasselbeck decided to frame the very positive report in a very negative way. When the November employment report came out on December 4, it was supposedly “straight” newsman Bret Baier’s turn to come up with a way to make it seem less positive than it is.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the economy added some 211,000 jobs in November. The unemployment rate remained at five percent, the lowest it has been since February 2008. There have now been 69 consecutive months of job growth under President Obama. But how did Baier report this good news? By focusing on a figure that many say is meaningless — the labor participation rate.
On his show “Special Report,” Baier spun the jobs numbers in a negative direction by saying that there are 94 million people “not participating in the workforce.” What Baier didn’t bother to explain was that the 94 million number includes students and retired people, as well as anybody else who is not looking for a job, for whatever reason. The BLS says that since the 1990’s, fewer than one in ten people who are not in the labor force reported that they wanted a job.
The right has been hung up on something known as the “labor participation rate” as a way to claim that President Obama is not doing well when it comes to jobs. The labor participation rate has been on the decline for almost ten years. But that number alone doesn’t explain what is going on. In February 2014, a report by Shigeru Fujita at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia explained what is happening:
The increase in nonparticipation [in the labor force] due to retirement has occurred only after around 2010, while nonparticipation due to disability has been steadily increasing over the past 13 years. Similarly, nonparticipation due to schooling has been steadily increasing and has been another major contributor to the secular decline in the participation rate since 2000.
Baier observed, correctly, that the number of Americans not in the labor force has remained consistent for some time. But what he didn’t mention is that the number of “discouraged workers,” those who have given up on trying to find a job, has been steadily declining. That number in November was 594,000, down from 698,000 a year ago. As the chart below from the BLS shows, the number of discouraged workers has been declining ever since late 2010, destroying another right-wing myth: that the unemployment rate is dropping because of more people who have stopped looking for work.
To paraphrase the old joke: conservatives, who are you going to believe, Fox News, or your lying eyes? I think we all know the answer to that.
Here’s how Fox News distorted the positive jobs report this month, via Media Matters:
Featured image via Media Matters/Fox News screen capture