Right Direction, Wrong Numbers

Three more reporters have in recent days fallen into the trap on the Bush administration’s job numbers that the editors of Spinsanity (one of whom is Campaign Desk Assistant Managing Editor Bryan Keefer) warn against in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

Edmund Andrews of The New York Times, Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press, and David Lightman of The Hartford Courant have all told readers in the last few days that a forecast by the White House’s Council Of Economic Advisers (CEA) predicted that the nation would add 2.6 million jobs this year — a figure that has both the president and his treasury secretary, John Snow, backpedaling swiftly.

In fact — as Spinsanity’s editors show, and as Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the CEA, has made clear — the 2.6 million figure was floated not as a projection for the end of the year, but rather as a 12-month average for 2004. That means for the forecast to be accurate, the nation would have to add closer to 5 million jobs by the end of this year, a number that most independent experts believe to be wildly implausible. (The consensus among forecasters surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is that slightly less than a million jobs will be created during all of 2004.)

To Andrews’ credit, he did point out that this is not the first time in the past two weeks that the hapless Mankiw has found himself in political hot water for economic remarks (in particular his recent comments about jobs and trade). But, like Riechmann and Lightman, Andrews fails to grasp the true scale of the inaccuracy of Mankiw’s prediction on job creation.

So the reporters are correct when they write that the White House is backing away from Mankiw’s forecast on job creation as fast as it quietly can. But the same reporters are unintentionally underplaying just how far off base that forecast likely is.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.