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CNS Does the Unemployment Shuffle just can't stop playing up cherry-picked jobless statistics to make President Obama look bad while burying the good news about new jobs created.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/10/2016

In 2014, ConWebWatch documented how dishonestly reported on monthly unemployment statistics by burying good news about dropping unemployment rates and cherry-picking negative statistics, for the apparent sole purpose of talking down the economy under President Obama.

In the two years since, CNS has continued to distort unemployment numbers, but it's taking a different -- and just as dishonest -- approach.

In mid-2015, CNS began putting more emphasis on the labor force participation rate, playing up the relative lowness of the rate and the number of Americans not in the labor force. For instance:

In none of these articles, however, is it mentioned that the labor force participation rate is a largely meaningless measure of unemployment and does not constitute the number of Americans who can't find a job.

CNS is clearly suggesting through its emphasis on touting the labor force participation rate that there are 90 million Americans who can't find a job. That's simply not true. Even the conservative American Enterprise Institute agrees, pointing out that 41 million of them are retired, and an additional 15 million are not looking for work because they are in school. AEI's James Pethokoukis wrote: "Faster growth would probably boost participation. So, too, disability reform. And it might be possible increase work among older Americans through tax policy. But it’s non-factual to suggest that nearly 100 million American are unemployed or jobless as the terms are commonly used."

CNS' main story in January on the December unemployment figures, by Susan Jones, is all about the labor force participation rate as expected. But wait -- what's this buried in the sixth paragraph of the article? Why, it's the first-ever breakdown of the labor force participation rate at CNS:

Ahead of this month's unemployment numbers, the Labor Department released an article examining why people who are not in the labor force are not working.

It found that in 2014, 87.4 million people 16 years and older neither worked nor looked for work at any time during that year.

Of this group, 38.5 million people reported retirement as the main reason for not working. About 16.3 million people were ill or had a disability, and 16.0 million were attending school. Another 13.5 million people cited home responsibilities as the main reason for not working in 2014, and 3.1 million individuals gave “other reasons.”

The self-reported reasons that people gave for not being in the labor force varied by age and gender, and the analysis includes charts comparing the reasons given by various worker groups in both 2004 and 2014.

Jones didn't admit that this explanation effectively blows up CNS' obsession with the labor force participation rate.

The following month, Jones reverted to pattern: an article with the headline "Labor Force Participation Improves to 62.7%; Not In Labor Force Declines to 94,062,000" that completely omitted the previous month's explanation of why the labor force participation rate is a bogus measure of unemployment. Jones' article, as per usual, waited until the fourth paragraph to mention the more important statistic that 151,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate went down one-tenth of a percent.

It was the same story in March, though even Jones couldn't hide the fact that the numbers were positive, even the labor force participation rate. The headline read "Labor Force Participation Improves; 93,688,000 Americans Not in Labor Force" and the creation of 242,000 jobs made it to the third paragraph.

In April, the usual context-deprived labor force rate obsession continued, though Jones once again had to concede the numbers were good. Instead of recruiting Michael Chapman to write another article about how the black unemployment rate is double that of whites (see below), CNS editor-in-chief Terry Jeffrey weighed in with an article on data showing that "The United States lost 29,000 manufacturing jobs in March while gaining jobs in retail trade, food services and drinking establishments."

Jeffrey's implication that this is somehow President Obama's fault, however, is undermined by a chart accompanying his article showing not only that retail jobs eclipsed manufacturing jobs around 2003 -- under a Republican president -- but that manufacturing jobs were at their lowest levels since the 1940s in 2009, and that employment in the manufacturing sector has mostly been on the increase since then.

Jones led yet again leading with the labor force participation rate in May, but this time, Jeffrey contributed an additional politically motivated cherry-picking of numbers with an article on how "The United States has lost approximately 191,000 jobs in the mining industry since September 2014." The implication, of course -- though Jeffrey carefully avoids saying it outright -- is that Obama's environmental policies are solely to blame for this. In fact, the major driver for the current reduction in mining jobs is a slump and decreased prices in the overall energy sector. Even the conservative Washington Examiner admitted that "the precipitous drop in oil prices" has driven the current loss in mining jobs. Jeffrey also glossed over the fact that the chart accompanying his article shows that mining industry jobs were fewer during most years of the last Republican presidency -- George W. Bush -- than currently under Obama.

Jones continued obsessing over the labor force unemployment rate in June, but this time actually mentioned the thing she usually ignores because it doesn't fit CNS' agenda (although not until the 10th paragraph) -- that the labor force participation rate is heavily affected by "retirements among the aging baby boom generation." But then she tried to spin it by saying that "the weak job market has caused other Americans to give up job-hunting in favor of staying home or going back to school," a claim she did not substantiate.

In July, Jones began by tossing out a bunch of labor force-related numbers:

The civilian labor force expanded in June, adding 414,000 people, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

The number of employed people increased by 67,000 to 151,097,000 in June, but the number of unemployed people increased even more, by 347,000 to 7,783,000.

The unemployment rate ticked up two-tenths of a point to 4.9 percent.

BLS said 94,517,000 Americans were not in the labor force in June, a slight improvement from May's record 94,708,000; and after dropping for three straight months, the labor force participation rate increased a tenth of a point to 62.7 percent in June.

Note that none of the numbers she's tossing around is the really important one: number of jobs created. That number -- 287,000 -- didn't get mentioned until the sixth paragraph of her article.

Jones also undermined once again her and CNS' obsession with presenting the labor force participation rate as a meaningful measure of employment by admitting that the number is largely driven by retiring baby boomers:

Last month, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress the Fed is keeping a close eye on the labor force participation rate. She said she expects that rate to "continue declining in the coming years because we have an aging population."

As baby-boomers retire, "they work less," she noted, even though younger people "participate more."

People who have not actively looked for work in the previous month are not counted as participating in the labor force.

Of course, that didn't get mentioned until the ninth paragraph of the article. Jones' noting that "Yellen told Congress that 'a sign of a strengthening labor market is to see people who were discouraged brought back into the labor force'" -- which further undermines the way Jones presented her numbers -- is buried even farther down.

And in August, Jones reverted to a straight obsession on the labor force numbers:

94,333,000 Americans were not in the labor force in July, a slightly better showing than June’s 94,517,000; and the labor force participation rate improved slightly, increasing a tenth of a point to 62.8 percent from June’s 62.7 percent, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reorted on Friday.

In September 2015, the labor force participation rate dropped to 62.4 percent, its lowest point since 1977. The best it’s been since Barack Obama took office is 65.8 percent in February 2009, the month after Obama was sworn in amid a recession.

The labor force participation rate is the percentage of people in the civilian noninstitutionalized population, age 16 or older, who are either working or actively seeking work.

As noted by the Congressional Budget Office, the labor force participation rate reflects people’s decisions about the attractiveness of working or looking for work compared with alternatives such as attending school, caring for family members, or retiring.
This time around, Jones omitted the fact that the labor force participation rate is driven by retirees and students and, therefore, meaningless as a measure of unemployment. She also waited until the fifth paragraph of her article to mention that 255,000 jobs were created in July.

Jones also penned a sidebar highlighting that "government employment increased by 38,000 in July." But had Jones bothered to look into the numbers at all, she would have found -- like Reuters did -- that much of the employment increase in the government sector had to do with hiring teachers.

Such laziness and dishonesty not only shows us that Jones is a terrible reporter, but also that CNS cares nothing about fair and accurate reporting.

Black unemployment

CNS will, on occasion, devote an article to black unemployment. For instance:

But that too is an out-of-context number used to implicitly blame Obama for high black unemployment.

CNN points out that black unemployment has always tracked at more than twice the rate of white unemployment since federal statistics started being kept in 1972, adding: "Most economists acknowledge that black workers face problems that other workers don't, including discrimination and lower achieving schools in poor neighborhoods."

CNS may also comment on black unemployment in its main article. For instance, a May 2015 article by Ali Meyer stated that black unemployment was "showed little or no change in April." In fact, black unemployment dropped 0.5 percent that month, falling under 10 percent for the first time in nearly seven years.

Most of those articles highlighting black unemployment were written by CNS managing editor Michael W. Chapman, who has some serious issues with permitting rampant right-wing bias at the "news" operation he runs.

To conform with CNS' obsession with the labor force participation rate, a May 6 article framed unemployment by race in those terms: "12,379,000 Blacks, 13,878,000 Hispanics Not in Labor Force in April." Still, like her boss, Jones was silent on the fact that black unemployment has historically been higher.

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