Kevin Drum wonders: why has the media has been kinder to Obama than to Reagan in covering unemployment? Really, I think he is serious:
Does the Media Care About Unemployment?
His puzzlement was prompted by Brad Delong noting the contrast between the desperate mood in Washington in 1983 when unemployment was around 10%, versus the seeming calm today. That prompted this from Kevin:
But it's true — or at least, it's my impression that it's true — that the media focused way more on economic hard luck stories in the early 80s than they do now. I have a strong memory of being practically bombarded with this stuff back then. Today, though, not so much. It's not that coverage of unemployment is absent, just that it strikes me as much less urgent than it was in the early 80s.
I don't know why. Maybe Brad's reasons are the right ones. Maybe it's just been crowded out by other financial news like bank bailouts and subprime ghost towns. Maybe the social safety net is more effective now than it was 30 years ago. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that today's stubbornly high numbers are concentrated among the long-term unemployed, as shown in the chart on the right. Maybe the rise of two-earner families has reduced the pain of unemployment somewhat. Maybe nobody really believes any longer that the government can do anything about this, so it's not worth reporting on. I don't know. But like Brad, it strikes me as quite odd.
Wow. There is not a righty in the world that can't suggest a reason for the media's posture. In fact, even before the election it was a truism that the tone of the press coverage of the economy would change to smiley faces the day Obama was sworn in.
Kevin is puzzled as to why the media back in 1983 (pre-Fox, pre-Rush) felt comfortable bashing Reagan, that stupid heartless conservative cowboy. Yet today, the media is giving a pass to Obama, determined not to give aid and comfort to the racist tea-baggers who question his economic policies. Gosh, I wonder what's going on. Couldn't be media bias, since in LibWorld that doesn't exist - they are owned by evil corporations, some supported the invasion of Iraq, and anyway, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, neener, neener, neener.
Just to add to the laughs, check this out from today's NY Times, and try to imagine it being written in 1983:
In a Job Market Realignment, Some Left Behind
By CATHERINE RAMPELL
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Many of the jobs lost during the recession are not coming back.
For the last two years, the weak economy has provided an opportunity for employers to do what they would have done anyway: dismiss millions of people — like file clerks, ticket agents and autoworkers — who were displaced by technological advances and international trade.
The phasing out of these positions might have been accomplished through less painful means like attrition, buyouts or more incremental layoffs. But because of the recession, winter came early.
Yeah, so get over it, jobless has-beens! Next we get a description of creative destruction that any Reagan-era Republican would have welcomed:
This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy.
Pruning relatively less-efficient employees like clerks and travel agents, whose work can be done more cheaply by computers or workers abroad, makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in over 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow.
But a huge group of people are being left out of the party.
Millions of workers who have already been unemployed for months, if not years, will most likely remain that way even as the overall job market continues to improve, economists say. The occupations they worked in, and the skills they currently possess, are never coming back in style. And the demand for new types of skills moves a lot more quickly than workers — especially older and less mobile workers — are able to retrain and gain those skills.
There is no easy policy solution for helping the people left behind. The usual unemployment measures — like jobless benefits and food stamps — can serve as temporary palliatives, but they cannot make workers’ skills relevant again.
"There is no easy policy solution", so don't even think about pestering Obama.
The Times approaches thin ice here:
Ms. Norton says she cannot find any government programs to help her strengthen the “thin bootstraps” she intends to pull herself up by. Because of the Wal-Mart job, she has been ineligible for unemployment benefits, and she says she made too much money to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid last year.
“If you’re not a minority, or not handicapped, or not a young parent, or not a veteran, or not in some other certain category, your hope of finding help and any hope of finding work out there is basically nil,” Ms. Norton says. “I know. I’ve looked.”
"Not a minority"? Well, she said it, but I'll deplore the implicit racism on their behalf. Also the sexism, orientationalism, and any other evil '-ism' in this woman's heart.
Here is all of their coverage of Team Obama's response:
The White House has publicly challenged the idea that structural unemployment is a big problem, with Christina D. Romer, the Council of Economic Advisers chairwoman, instead emphasizing that stronger economic growth is what’s needed. Still, the administration has allocated dollars for retraining in both the 2009 stimulus package and other legislation, largely for clean technology jobs.
Yeah, that coverage is sort of like the Reagan era.
FOR PEDANTS: Reagan signed tax increases in 1983; that was when "deficits as far as the eye could see" were going to ruin the American economy. Believe it or not, some of the usual suspects in the economic field have been able to rationalize the Obama approach. Well, time is a useful teacher.
DARE I OFFER A GUESS? Presidents usually get too much credit and too much blame for the economy, but that is compounded by a media that prefers to credit Democrats and blame Republicans. The press coverage of the Bush 41 jobless recovery helped Clinton get elected, at which point the jobless recovery disappeared from the news (job growth was only slightly improved from 1992 to 1993; adjust the dates on this BLS chart.)
And Clinton gets all the credit for the late 90's boom, even though Gingrich and Co. forced a commitment to deficit reduction that might have otherwise been lacking.
As to the current debacle, the run-amuck at Fannie and Freddie was a bipartisan mess, but my 20/20 hindsight tells me that Bush/Greenspan/Bernanke could have done more with the regulatory tools at their disposal.