A Modest Suggestion: Put the News on Page One

Far away from the front pages, where political reporters routinely miscalculate and misreport the number of jobs erased and/or created during the Bush administration, a few business reporters are toiling away to come up with a more accurate, and more nuanced, portrait of an economy in turmoil.

Chief among them is New York Times economic columnist Louis Uchitelle, who yesterday deftly skewered his colleagues for their pointless ramblings about whether the 1.5 million jobs that have been created in the past 12 months are good jobs (well-paid) or crummy jobs (poorly-paid).

That, asserts Uchitelle, is the wrong debate. The real issue is not the quality of those new jobs; the real issue is the quality of the 131.3 million jobs that comprise the total workforce. That the workforce as a whole is losing ground is not in doubt, he says: The incomes of most workers, adjusted for inflation, are sinking. According to data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics released last week, that’s true whether your yardstick is household income, family income, or individual income.

Uchitelle further notes that there were nearly 10 million wage earners who lost full-time jobs between 2001 and 2003, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued last month, dwarfing the recent job gains. Of those 9.86 million, 4.4 million have found work since, but 52 percent of them took jobs paying less than they once earned, a worse figure than during the recoveries of 1984 and 1994. What Bush and Kerry should be debating isn’t the quality of a few new jobs in the past 12 months, he says, but rather how to ameliorate overall income deterioration.

This is the kind of meticulous parsing of readily available data that is sorely lacking from the page ones or the political columns of the nation’s newspapers — including those of Uchitelle’s employer.

Campaign Desk is beginning to think the real story of what’s going on in this country is more likely to be found on page C6, not on page one.

And that’s a press failing that extends far beyond The New York Times.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.