OLD Media Moves

Is comparing job losses to 1945 accurate?

January 16, 2009

Jamie Gold, the reader’s representative at the Los Angeles Times, writes Friday about reader complaints to a story in the paper’s business section that compares job losses to those in 1945.

Gold writes, “The L.A. Times story reported on raw numbers of unemployed Americans (‘More than 11 million American workers — roughly 1 out of 14 — are unemployed and actively looking for new jobs’); it also reported what percentage of the population was unemployed (7.2%). However, a paragraph that Girvetz saw as key in providing better context was lower down. It said: ‘The last time the unemployment rate topped 7% was in 1993. In nominal terms, the economy has lost more jobs this year than in any year since 1945, although the population has grown significantly.’

“Girvetz homed in on those last six words, saying he thought readers would have been given a more realistic impression of how this compares historically had The Times focused on job losses as a percentage of total jobs. Because the total number of jobs in the economy more than quadrupled in the last 60-plus years, 2008’s job loss — 1.9% — was the steepest only since a 2.3% drop in 1982. It was only the fifth-worst since WWII. The sixth-worst was 1.3% in 2001.

“Sometimes the most dramatic numbers aren’t necessarily the most helpful in giving readers that picture. Business Editor Sallie Hofmeister acknowledged: ‘I think it is fair to say that more context would have helped the reader and that the story, while not inaccurate, could have included the perspective [the reader] mentions, adding a sentence saying employment is much higher today than in 1945.'”

Read more here.

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