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CNS Unemployment Reporting: Back To The Future

As the unemployment rate dropped under President Biden, reverted to an old Obama-era tactic by cherry-picking a different statistic to emphasize.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 1/24/2022

After a year of aggressive pro-Trump spin of employment rates to distract from how high unemployment had gotten during the pandemic, was inevitably going to change that spin with a Democrat returning to the Oval Office -- the same negative tone it used when Barack Obama was president. It did not disappoint, reviving the Obama-era negativity right down to reviving the tactic of cherry-picking numbers that cast clouds over the overall picture.

Let's look at how CNS covered unemployment in 2021, shall we?


Donald Trump was president for the first 20 days of January, but you'd never know it from's coverage of January's unemployment numbers. That fact is ignored in Susan Jones' main story; instead, the focus is on blaming incoming President Biden for the not-good numbers even though he was president for only the final 11 days of the month (and, of course, remind us that the pre-pandemic economy under Trump was amazing):

The first employment report of the Biden presidency, coming just 16 days after he took the oath of office, shows the economy is improving, but has a long way to go to match the records set before the coronavirus hit in early 2020.

In January, the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point -- to 6.3 percent from December's 6.7 percent -- as the number of unemployed people decreased by 606,000 to 10,130,000 and the number of employed people increased by 201,000 to 150,031,000.

The number of employed Americans has now increased for nine straight months, but remains well below the record 158,735,000 set under President Trump in December 2019.

By contrast, CNS' coverage of the January 2017 numbers was all about heaping blame on President Obama, complete with a sidebar on the "real unemployment rate" -- something CNS never reported while Trump was president even though it was actually higher for a few months following the initial outbreak of the pandemic than it ever was under Obama.

Jones took another shot at Biden:

Notably, Joe Biden came into office talking about job creation in the clean energy sector, but his first executive actions -- including cancelation of the Keystone XL pipeline and his relaxed immigration policies -- are expected to cost some American citizens their jobs at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has devastated many businesses.

The only sidebar this time around was one from Craig Bannister on Hispanic unemployment, which "improved in January as the nation’s businesses continued reopening from the coronavirus-prompted shutdown and 230,000 fewer Hispanics participated in the labor force." Bannister made no mention of either Biden or Trump.


For the first full month of Biden's presidency, CNS was reluctant to give him credit for job growth. In her lead story on February's numbers, Jones was still waxing nostalgic about how many jobs Trump created before the pandemic and comparing the's numbers to pre-pandemic totals:

The economy added a healthy 379,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a point to 6.2 percent.

A year ago February, the nation's unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, a fifty-year low; but that was before coronavirus caused parts of the economy to shut down.

The number of employed Americans, 150,239,000, increased in February for the tenth month in a row. That's a gain of 208,000 from January, as more states start to relax COVID restrictions.

The 150,239,000 employed Americans in February is well below the record 158,735,000 set during the Trump administration. But it's close to the levels set in late 2015/early 2016 during the Obama-Biden administration.

That's not the only right-wing narrative Jones pushed in her article. She also uncritically quoted right-wing economist Stephen Moore claiming that the lower unemployment rate "shows we don't need another $2 trillion dollar stimulus bill. We need to get states reopened. The number of COVID cases is down dramatically. The success of Operation Warp Speed and the vaccine have been the best stimulus of all."

CNS served up the usual sidebars this time around: one from editor Terry Jeffrey lamenting that "Despite adding 21,000 manufacturing jobs in the month of February, the United States has lost 561,000 in the past year," and the other from Bannister conceding that "The unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos improved slightly in February as more than a quarter-million both entered the labor force and found jobs and the nation’s businesses continued reopening from the coronavirus-prompted shutdown."


Continuing to refuse to give Biden any credit for job gains, Jones stuck strictly to the number in her lead story on March's employment numbers:

As more cities and states reopen, the number of jobs created and the number of employed Americans continues to substantially increase.

In March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added a whopping 916,000 jobs, compared with +468,000 (revised) in February.

At the same time, the number of unemployed Americans also dropped by 262,000 to 9,710,000, pushing the unemployment rate down two-tenths of a point to 6.0 percent. That's less than half of the record 14.8 percent unemployment rate set a year ago April.

But where CNS often illustrated stories about monthly job improvements under the Trump administration with pictures of Donald Trump, Biden got no such treatment here; Jones' article was illustrated with a photo of an amusement park preparing to reopen.

There were the usual sidebars of Bannister noting increased Hispanic employment and Jeffrey noting increased government employment. That article included a picture of Biden along with other Democrats, as if working in government was perpetrating a solely Democratic evil.


Job growth was slower than expected during April, so CNS was eager to exploit the occasion to yet again, in Jones' main story, tout how much better the economy was under Trump pre-pandemic:

Friday's jobs report reflects a reopening economy that still has a long way to go to match its Trump-era strength.

Contrary to bullish expectations, the unemployment rate actually ticked up a tenth of a point to 6.1 percent in April, and the economy added 266,000 jobs, far fewer than the 770,000 (revised) added in March and the 536,000 added in February.

Notably, the number of employed Americans increased in April for the 12th consecutive month since the economy tanked under COVID pressure in April 2020. Last month, BLS said 151,176,000 Americans were employed. That is 318,000 more than in March, and 1,145,000 more than when Joe Biden took office in January.

Jones concluded by huffing, "President Joe Biden will speak about today's jobs report later on this Friday, no doubt taking another opportunity to promote his American Jobs Plan."

Jeffrey served up his usual sidebar complaint about government jobs, grousing this time that "Federal, state and local governments in the United States increased their employment by a combined 48,000 workers in April." But he knew who to blame; the article was illustrated with a picture of Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi bumping elbows, as if to (falsely) suggest they were celebrating more government unemployment. Jeffrey tried to distort numbers further by comparing them to 20-year-old numbers: "Even with the significant decline in government employment that occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, government employment is still up 1,020,000 in this century, rising from 20,571,000 in January 2000 to the current 21,591,000."

CNS served up one other usual sidebar, on Hispanic unemployment.


Throughout the month of May, meanwhile, CNS pounced on the lower-than-expected job growth figures to push right-wing narratives about too-generous unemployment insurance supposedly discouraging people from getting jobs. A May 7 article by Melanie Arter highlighted how "Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday that the extra unemployment compensation funds were not a factor that made a difference in last month’s jobs numbers." That was followed by Bannister gloating over how "liberal media" predictions of robust job growth didn't come to pass; Bannister then linked back to an even gloatier NewsBusters post (run by CNS' parent, the Media Research Center) on the same subject.

A May 10 article by Jones, meanwhile, again highlighted "the disappointing April jobs report" and noted that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said "there is 'anecdotal evidence' but 'nothing in the data' to suggest that higher unemployment benefits, passed by Congress as part of COVID relief, are hurting the job market."

CNS also offered plenty of opinion on the subject:

  • A May 12 column by Tony Perkins complained that "The Democrats' COVID welfare -- a mix of generous unemployment benefits and stimulus checks -- is turning the country's workforce into a bunch of highly-paid couch potatoes" (never mind that both stimulus checks and higher unemployment benefits began under President Trump).
  • Pat Buchanan huffed in his May 14 column: "Workers might reasonably ask: Why go back to work when we can take the summer off, with full unemployment, plus $300 a week?"
  • David Limbaugh whined: "You don't increase productivity and jobs by injecting play money into the economy and continuing to pay unemployment benefits that disincentivize people from returning to work, a reality he cynically denies."
  • Stephen Moore complained: "President Joe Biden made the laughable observation that he saw "no measurable evidence" that the super generous unemployment program is a deterrent to working. He needs to get out more."
  • Bannister grumbled that White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that "It’s not that federal subsidies to unemployment insurance benefits have made it more attractive for people to stay home than to return to work, it’s that other factors, such as the low pay being offered, are discouraging would-be workers."

Actually, numerous studies have shown that unemployment benefits do not keep people from seeking work. But CNS never reported that perspective to its readers -- the right-wing narrative comes before the truth.

But when May's numbers came up not only much better than April's but also much closer to expectations, CNS really didn't want to talk much about it. Jones' article about it was about as straightforward as CNS gets, while also sniping that the numbers still didn't reach some estimates and still aren't as good as they were under President Trump:

Following a disappointing employment report in April, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday produced an improving picture as the nation continues to emerge from its COVID slump.


In May, 151,620,000 Americans were working, 7,115,000 fewer than the record 158,735,000 employed in December 2019 when Donald Trump was president. As COVID crashed the economy, the number of employed Americans fell to 133,370,000 in April 2020, a number not seen since 1999.

Interestingly, that was the only story CNS did; the usual sidebars on government employment or Hispanic employment never appeared. Perhaps CNS decided the numbers were so good that it didn't want to draw additional attention to them.


Again, the employment numbers were so good that CNS could find nothing to attack President Biden over, and it was shocked into reporting the news in a mostly straightforward manner. Jones, however, still tried to emphasize the few not-so-good numbers in her lead story:

Total nonfarm payroll rose by 850,000 in June, the strongest number of the year so far, and well above the 583,000 (revised) jobs added in May. The 850,000 jobs added exceeds analysts' estimates, which ran as high as 700,000 for June.

But at the same time, the unemployment rate ticked up a tenth of a point to 5.9 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.


On Friday, BLS reported that the number of employed Americans broke a 13-month upward streak, dropping by 18,000 to 151,602,000 in June from 151,620,000 in May.

At the same time, the number of unemployed Americans -- those who don't have a job but are available for work and have looked for work in the past four weeks -- increased to 9,484,000 in June, a gain of 168,000 from 9,316,000 in May.

This produced the higher unemployment rate.

After a month in which CNS didn't bother to do any sidebars; this time, Jeffrey served up his usual complaints about government employment: "Governments in the United States added a net total of 188,000 jobs in the month of June, even as the federal government decreased the number it employed by 5,000."


Once again, July's employment numbers were too good for CNS to attack. That meant Jones had to really struggle to find a negative spin to embrace:

Amid the recent emergence and rapid spread of the delta variant in the United States, and with expanded unemployment benefits and monthly child tax credits (stimulus) payments flowing to millions of Americans, the Labor Department on Friday nevertheless issued an encouraging report on the U.S. employment situation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says nonfarm payroll employment rose by a strong 943,000 in July, following increases of +938,000 (revised) in June and +614,000 (revised) in May. (Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal were expecting nonfarm payroll to increase by 845,000 jobs in July.)

The unemployment rate declined by half a percentage point to 5.4 percent from 5.9 percent last month. That is the best showing since the 4.4 percent unemployment rate in March 2020, just as COVID began causing massive economic dislocation.

Still, Jones did bring in a right-wing activist to at least allude to negativity:

Alfredo Ortiz, President and CEO of the Job Creators Network, a small business advocacy group, noted on Friday that job growth is following vaccination growth.

"Even in the midst of a vaccine-induced recovery, only 10 percent of small businesses say they’ve fully recovered from the pandemic, according to the latest JCN Foundation Monthly Monitor Poll of small businesses, and that's only a 1 percent increase from the previous month.

"Even these gains are in danger," Ortiz warned, as blue state governors and mayors impose new mandates...on small businesses that are already experiencing staffing shortages."

The only sidebar this time was the usual complaint by Jeffrey that governments added jobs, as if they don't count as real jobs or that the people who hold them don't do real work.


CNS did not serve up a summary of federal employment numbers for August because Jones was off that week. (You'd think that a "news" organization would have someone else write that story, given how it's "news" and all, and how it is a predictable staple of CNS coverage.) Instead, the only article was the usual sidebar from Jeffrey on government jobs, complaining that "The federal government added 3,000 civilian employees in August."

Instead, Bannister stepped into the breach with an article accusing Nancy Pelosi of spinning the "disappointing" numbers to push federal spending:

“Today’s job report is further evidence of the need to Build Back Better for our economy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday, reacting to August’s steep drop in job growth from its year-long trend reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

As the BLS reported in its monthly Employment Situation Summary, August’s 235,000 job growth was less than half the average monthly job gain recorded so far this year, coming in at just 235,000. To-date in 2021, the U.S. economy has added an average of 586,000 per month:

Bannister didn't mention that the lower numbers were driven by the Delta variant harming restaurant and hospitality jobs.


CNS went back to an old Obama-era tactic in reporting on September's employment statistics: downplay the decline in the unemployment rate by focusing on the labor force participation rate. Susan Jones pushed that in the headline of her main article on the numbers, "BLS: Labor Participation Rate Stalls, With 61.6% of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population Working":

September was a month of slow job growth, with a measly 194,000 nonfarm payroll jobs added -- the worst number of the year.

It was well below analysts' expectations of 500,000, and it follows the disappointing (revised) 366,000 payroll jobs added in August, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday.

The unemployment rate fell, but so did the important labor force participation rate, which has remained within a narrow range of 61.4 percent to 61.7 percent since June 2020. And the number of people who are not in the labor force -- have no job and are not looking for one -- is the highest it's been since March.
Jones suggested that "pandemic-related unemployment benefits have ended," which should have pushed employment higher, but did note that "Labor Secretary Marty Walsh put some of the blame on the delta variant." Still, she also included a Republican congressman ranting that President Biden "has lost the confidence of the American people to lead the economy."

CNS didn't offer its usual sidebars on government employment or the jobless rates for Black or Hispanic workers. But it did publish a couple of follow-up pieces that pushed its anti-Biden editorial agenda. An Oct. 11 article by Melanie Arter uncritically repeated Republican Rep. Steve Scalise insisting that "President Joe Biden’s policies are to blame for last month’s disappointing job numbers." Arter did add that "Biden blamed the Delta variant" for those numbers, but did not quote Scalise making mention of that. She did note that Fox News host Chris Wallace said the numbers were disappointing even though extra unemployment benefits ended at the beginning of September, but quoting Scalise blathering about "other welfare programs."

That was followed by an Oct. 12 commentary by Nick Stehle of the right-wing Foundation for Government Accountability weirdly cheering over the end of the "job-killing federal unemployment bonus." Stehle was silent on the disappointing numbers, which in his theory should have been better due to the end of those extra benefits.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey took a lazy shot in a Sept. 30 article:

Nine of the sixteen U.S. metropolitan statistical areas with the highest August unemployment rates, as ranked this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were in California.

The El Centro metropolitan area, which sits in Imperial County, California, just north of Mexicali, Mexico, led the nation’s 389 metropolitan areas in August with an unemployment rate of 19.4 percent, according to BLS.

That compared to a national unemployment rate for August of just 5.3 percent.

It's unclear why Jeffrey wrote this article, beyond a quick and dirty shot at California -- all he does is recite BLS statistics. An intern could have done that. He made no effort to investigate why these areas have high unemployment; perhaps his goal is to suggest that Californians are lazy bums. So he didn't tell you that the El Centro region had a poor economy before the pandemic (and under President Trump). An actual news outlet reported in 2019 about El Centro:

Many of the jobs here are agricultural: The Imperial Valley is home to thousands of acres of farms that grow cauliflower, potatoes and spinach and require a large seasonal workforce. Some of the farmworkers live here; many others cross the border from Mexico a few miles away to work every day.

Once they become too old to work in the fields, however, few jobs are available other than retail and fast food.


"Our economy is not diversified. It's a very narrow economy. It's either farm or government or teaching or low-income, with a few other exceptions," says Sara Griffen, executive director of the Imperial Valley Food Bank.

Jeffrey went on to wrote that "The Yuma metro area, which sits on the Mexican border in southwest Arizona, had the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate this August. It was 18.2 percent." Again, Jeffrey couldn't be bothered to explain why. but as it turns out, Yuma's economy is much like El Centro's -- impoverished, undiversified, overly dependent on farming, and has been that way for years.


For the second month in a row, CNS reverted to the labor force participation rate tactic. Show us how to obfuscate, Susan Jones:

The Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday that 100,450,000 people in this country were not in the labor force in October, up 38,000 from the 100,412,000 in September.

This is the 14th straight month that this "not in the labor force" number has remained above 100,000,000.

Persons who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force. This category includes retired persons, students, those taking care of children or other family members, and others who are neither working nor seeking work.

Among those not in the labor force in October, 1.3 million persons said they were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 1.6 million in September.

The number of people not in the labor force reached a record high of 103,418,000 in April 2020, as the pandemic took hold; and the highest it's been under President Joe Biden is 100,708,000 this past February.

With so many people not in the labor force, the labor force participation rate has remained stubbornly low in recent years, and it did not budge in October.

It wasn't until the 11th paragraph of her article that Jones finally got around to mentioning the exceedingly positive news that not only "531,000 jobs were added to nonfarm payrolls in October, which was above analysts' estimates," but also that the "disappointing showing" of 194,000 jobs created in September "has been revised upward to 312,000 jobs." There's no legitimate news reason to bury that., of course -- we know CNS puts its right-wing, anti-Biden political agenda before sound news judgment.

Even with those massive employment gains, Jeffrey found something to cheer is government-hating hear in his usual sidebar, that "Governments in the United States dropped a net total of 73,000 [jobs] last month."


Jones primed the upcoming report on November's employment numbers with a Dec. 1 article noting that both Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell agree that the "single most important thing" that will bring workers back into the workforce is "getting past the COVID-induced disruptions." She also tried to justify her selective obsession with the labor force participation rate (which occurs only when a Democrat is president) by cheering a Republican senator referencing it, then adding:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, "Labor force participation is an important component of economic growth: As more people participate in the labor force, firms are able to expand employment and increase production."

Moreover, CPO notes: "Greater labor force participation is associated with higher tax revenues because the number of employed people, and therefore the number of people paying income and payroll taxes, tends to rise. It is also associated with lower spending on means-tested programs (which provide cash payments or other forms of assistance to people with relatively low income or few assets), such as Medicaid, and on refundable tax credits.”

Thus, in her Dec. 3 article after November's numbers came out, she led once again with the labor force participation rate, though it was actually good news:

In November, 99,977,000 people in this country did not have a job and were not looking for one -- a decrease of 473,000 since October and the lowest number since Joe Biden became president, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday.

This number reached a record high of 103,418,000 in April 2020, the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has remained above 100,000,000 for 14 straight months until now.

Among those not in the labor force in November, 1.2 million people said were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, little changed from October.

Interestingly, Jones avoided mentioning who was president in April 2020. Also interestingly, she waited until the 11th paragraph of her article to mention the very good news that the unemployment rate went down to 4.2 percent. But Trump did get a name-check from Jones, when she once again reminded us of how good the economy was under him before the pandemic:

The labor force participation rate reached a Trump-era high of 63.4 percent in January 2020, just before the onset of COVID. In April 2020, the rate fell to a 47-year low of 60.2 percent. It has moved up since then, but until this month, it remained within a narrow range of 61.4 percent to 61.7 percent since June 2020.

Jones also rehashed her obsession with the labor force rate again, while also looking down on anyone who isn't working:

BLS describes labor force participation as an important labor market measure because it represents the relative amount of labor resources available for the production of goods and services.

Also, people who work contribute payroll and Social Security taxes that help support programs for people who do not work.

CNS didn't supply any of its usual sidebars on government employment and Hispanic employment. Perhaps that news was too good, and good economic news when a Democrat is president is bad news for CNS.


The unemployment rate keeps going lower, so Jones once again labor force participation rate in her article on December's employment numbers:

The Labor Department's final employment report of 2021, released on Friday morning, shows steady improvement since January a year ago.

But labor force participation remains a concern, as does the number of Americans counted as not in the labor force -- not working and not looking for work, for whatever reason. Those are just two of the Labor Department measures of economic health that have not rebounded to their pre-pandemic levels.

And notably, today's report does not fully account for the recent holiday omicron surge.

As she has throughout the past year of reporting on unemployment numbers, Jones made sure to give shout-outs, both explicit and implicit, to how great things were under Donald Trump before the pandemic started:

Last month’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since the 3.5 percent in February 2020.


The labor force participation rate reached a seven-year high of 63.4 percent in January 2020, the final year of Trump's presidency and just before the onset of COVID.

CNS didn't serve up its usual sidebars on government or Hispanic unemployment this time, instead focusing on other attacks. An article by Bannister hyped Fox Business host Stuart Varney claiming that "December’s numbers actually underestimate the weakness of the nation’s job growth, because the harmful effect of the Omicron virus in the second half of the month is not factored in." Bannister followed that by writing what began as a press release for the Republican National Committee:

On Friday, while RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel declared December’s Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) jobs report the worse of Joe Biden’s presidency, Biden touted the positive records set during the full year of 2021.

Following Friday’s release of the latest monthly BLS report, McDaniel issued a statement noting the disappointing level of job creation in December – and warning that the Biden Administration’s ongoing efforts to force small businesses to fire unvaccinated employees will hurt employment:

Bannister copied-and-pasted several paragraphs from the RNC press release trashing Biden over the employment numbers, though he also repeated tweets from Biden and conceded that "there is, indeed, both good news and bad news in the latest employment picture."

Meanwhile, Arter went into stenographer mode to report that "President Joe Biden painted a rosy picture of Friday’s jobs reports, calling it a 'historic day' for the economic recovery, despite adding less than half the number of jobs in December that analysts expected."

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