Writing about government economic reports is hard. Do the work
Who are we to call an employment report “healthy”?
The 235,000 added jobs might look “healthy,” but there’s plenty of information buried in the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics report that could inform other interpretations.
For example, if you look at “total nonfarm” figures in the February report, you see that the difference between the number of jobs in January was only 0.16 percent. Some might say there’s nothing “healthy” about that. You would also find that the number of retail jobs, many of which pay very little, fell 0.16 percent. (The retail trade as counted by the BLS, though, includes cashiers and people who work in the financial industry. Cashiers and finance workers probably have very different definitions of “healthy.”)
Meanwhile, “average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased by 6 cents to $26.09, following a 5-cent increase in January,” the BLS news release says. A lot of those retail workers make a lot less than $26.09 an hour.
There are several important lessons here:
- Don’t rewrite the BLS press releases. Read and study the reports. You’ll find all sorts of useful information that, while not necessarily contradictory, shows wrinkles in the overall numbers.
- Talk to people responsible for compiling the information about how the numbers for disparate industries might relate to each other. Don’t bother with outside “analysts,” who might not know more than you do and are foremost concerned with promoting their businesses. (In the L.A. Times story, a Moody’s labor economist is quoted as saying “This is not a sustainable pace, for sure.” Who knows? Not her. “She added that Moody’s was projecting job growth this year to average about 180,000 a month.” How did Moody’s come up with that figure? Who knows?)
- Many newspapers and online sites do not have the resources to do these stories themselves. But be wary of using wire stories that move minutes after the reports are released. They are written straight off the press releases and don’t get into much detail.
- Give the wires time to look deeper into the reports, if you have reason to expect they will. Use supplemental services to better explain the figures. Edit these stories thoroughly and carefully and don’t be afraid to delete questionable or unnecessary material. n Don’t characterize these and other government financial reports as “healthy,” “disappointing,” or anything else.
Many tax liens and civil judgments soon will be taken off people’s credit reports, the latest move to omit negative information from the powerful financial scorecards. – Wall Street Journal
“Elegant variation” is employed when a writer struggles to come up with a synonym for a perfectly usable noun. “Elongated yellow fruit” (for “banana”) is perhaps the best-known example of the aberration, as documented for years by professor Fred Vultee on Headsup: The Blog.
It’s mildly surprising to see the Wall Street Journal lower itself to such a hackneyed device.
Phillip Blanchard is a former business editor at the Washington Post. Previously he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers in upstate New York. He is founder of Testy Copy Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org