The Economy Today: Better than Expected

A roundup of national and regional economic headlines

All the major outlets, including The Washington Post, report the news that “only” 247,000 jobs were lost in July, with the unemployment rate staying essentially flat at 9.4 percent. That’s not great, but it’s better than expected. New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt calls it “the least-bad jobs report in a long time,” while downplaying the slight drop in the unemployment rate: the share of adults with jobs actually fell, he notes. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, relays word from the Labor Department that new claims for jobless benefits also declined last week.

On the stimulus front, the NYT runs a front-page story reporting that the consensus among economists is that the infusion of federal funds “has helped blunt the downturn in limited but discernible ways.” One economist quoted by the paper sees government intervention—including but not limited to the stimulus—as “the primary contributor” to economic recovery.

In other stimulus news, a House committee chastised Florida, South Carolina and Hawaii for their laggardly pace in spending their allotted road improvement funds, according to the Christian Science Monitor. (Wyoming, New Hampshire and Oklahoma got good marks.) A Reuters story notes that Florida, which has used only 2 percent of the more than $1.3 billion it received, was particularly singled out. Local papers in those states seem not to have picked up on the story yet, though they are reporting on other uses for federal dollars. Stimulus funds will foot the bill for a child development center at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii, reports the Honolulu Advertiser. And in Jacksonville, a $95 million federal grant could lead a high-tech battery plant to open its doors, potentially creating hundreds of jobs, reports The Florida Times-Union.

Out in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press hails news that the Obama administration is making the state the centerpiece of its efforts to support a cleaner, greener auto industry. “The $1.36 billion heading to Michigan,” the paper reports, “is to create up to 6,800 jobs in the next 18 months and up to 40,000 through 2020.” In Maryland, meanwhile, the state government is trying to figure out just how to count which new jobs in the state have been created by the stimulus, reports The Capital in Annapolis. So far, the tally is a little over 2,200, or about one-tenth of what state officials originally estimated the ultimate result would be.

Many of the projections getting tossed around, of course, should be viewed with skepticism. As the watchdog publication ProPublica has argued, coming up with a credible number can be a challenging task.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.