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How we frame the economic news

Caricature of SteveThe Labor Department has issued its monthly jobs report and the way two major American newspapers report the same news illustrates how differently media organizations choose to frame the same topic.

The Washington Post Headline:  “U.S. added 156,000 jobs in December; unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7”

The Wall Street Journal Headline: “Job Growth Slows in December; Wages Post Best Gain Since 2009”

The Post claims “…wages showed strong growth in the final full month of President Obama’s administration, evidence that economic growth is finally translating into gains for workers as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office.”

But the Journal, while acknowledging some progress on the economic front, asserts, Those achievements were marred by trends including a long run of weak wage gains, the lowest share of adults in the labor force in four decades, and an elevated number of Americans frustrated because they are stuck in part-time jobs but want full-time work.”

The Post states,  “Average hourly earnings increased by 10 cents from the previous month to $26 in December. Over the year, wages are up 2.9 percent, the strongest increase in more than seven years.”

The Journal reports, “Wage gains firmed last year, but remain weak by historical standards. Wages for nonsupervisory workers, for which there is a longer series of data, since 2009 have grown at the slowest rate of any expansion since at least the mid-1960s.” 

Both publications quote experts who say the economy is strong. Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics  is cited by The Post, “The economy is probably close to full employment. We’re clearly seeing evidence that wage pressures are starting to build.”

Former Bill Clinton labor economist Harry Holzer  notes in The Journal, “We’ve pretty much had a nearly complete recovery from the Great Recession.”

However, the two publications have stark differences is how they cast last month’s decision by the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark interest rate and remarks by Chairwoman Janet Yellen in a separate December speech.

The Post hints that Yellen “…likely referring to Trump’s promise to boost infrastructure spending” when she stated, “We’re operating under a cloud of uncertainty at the moment, and we have to wait and see what changes occur and factor those into our decision-making as we gain more clarity.”

Meanwhile, The Journal quotes Yellen as saying elsewhere last month, “Challenges do remain. The economy is growing more slowly than in past recoveries, and productivity growth, which is a major influence on wages, has been disappointing.”

Conclusion

The more liberal Washington Post portrayed the latest jobs report as a positive economic picture achieved by President Obama as he ends his eight years in office.

The conservative Wall Street Journal concedes some recovery from the Great Recession but notes areas where the economy continues to lag.

Both the Post and Journal are respected traditional (legacy) news organizations. But readers need to know that each approaches the news from very different ideological and editorial perspectives.

It’s wise for consumers to sample more than one source as you seek the truth. Balancing the content of these two publications is a good way to start…cautiously.


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