The Media’s Coverage of the Unemployment Crisis

A lot of people have been commenting on this story and graph from National Journal, showing that media coverage of unemployment peaked in August 2010 and that media coverage has moved onto deficit talks. “Mentions of unemployment have been dwindling since they spiked to 154 in the month ending August 15, 2010; over the month ending Sunday, there were 63.”

Greg Sargent thinks it is upper-middle-class Washington DC myopia. Derek Thompson looks to the government abandoning any interest in the unemployed means there’s less to cover. Jason Linkins argues that the media has abandoned its responsibility to society.  I think they are all right.

I’ll make two quick points. First, percentages and ratios don’t often convey the sheer magnitude of the problem, so here are the unemployed, marginally attached (meaning someone who would work but has given up looking) and underemployed (working fewer hours than they’d like for economic reasons) by millions of people:

That includes December 2007, which is right before the Recession, August 2010, when coverage peaked, and this month.

I’ll also note that August 3rd, 2010, or right when media coverage peaked, was when Treasury Secretary Geithner wrote the Welcome to the Recovery editorial for the New York Times:

THE devastation wrought by the great recession is still all too real for millions of Americans who lost their jobs, businesses and homes. The scars of the crisis are fresh, and every new economic report brings another wave of anxiety. That uncertainty is understandable, but a review of recent data on the American economy shows that we are on a path back to growth….

As the economists Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have written, recoveries that follow financial crises are typically a hard climb. That is reality. The process of repair means economic growth will come slower than we would like. But despite these challenges, there is good news to report….

There are urgent tasks to be undertaken to reinforce the recovery, and Congress should move now to help small business, to assist states in keeping teachers in the classroom, to increase investments in public infrastructure, to promote clean energy and to increase exports. And while making smart, targeted investments in our future, we must also cut the deficit over the next few years and make sure that America once again lives within its means….

Usually people get mad about the government-as-family metaphor that Obama’s team does but I tend to harness great rage when the Obama team goes to Rogoff/Reinhart to justify why they are off the hook for a weak economy. People like Joe Gagnon and Ben Bernanke (see here) will push back and say that Rogoff and Reinhart have a variety of outcomes, and that the bad outcomes are associated with weak or bad policy responses. But they can only do so much if the administration has moved on to other priorities.

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4 Responses to The Media’s Coverage of the Unemployment Crisis

  1. That Rogoff and Rienhart book is quite a phenomenon. They definitely have their own opinions about stuff but I’ve noticed that that book fits the definition of objectivity pretty well. The more objective something is the easier it is for a variety of people who have their own different “agendas” to appeal to it.

    I’ve noticed lots and lots of people appeal to R&R to point out how horrible sovereign defaults would be for the PIIGS but I’ve rarely seen anyone point out what I thought was one of the most striking conclusions of the book which was that “the market” doesn’t not punish sovereigns very much at all when they default (the mostly restructure really). As they point out, Greece has spent half of the last century in default and that didn’t seem to hurt its access to credit too bad.

  2. Daniel says:

    I have another explanation. There are 2 forces driving the unemployment issue out of the media. 1) A concerted, highly funded, effort by conservative/business leaders who rather talk about the deficit for political/economic reasons, including trying to energize their own base, shift blame to prevent regulation, prevent the resurgence of a new new deal and renew in progressive government. 2) An Obama administration that believes that there is nothing they can do about the economy, and that focus on that will make them seem powerless, and incompetent. So instead of countering the PR narrative, they agree to it, and try to shift the debate.

    These two have enormous agenda stetting power, The business controls the media either directly (ownership) or indirectly (advertising), Politicians schedule hearings and etc. I think the media is just incompetent, because that is who they hire for those jobs.

  3. Mike says:

    R&R is great and will likely stay a standard text for decades. But a lot of people use it to push policy that doesn’t necessarily flow from the text (the authors don’t help – remember the who debt/gdp cutoff thing?).

    Good point on the PIIGS.

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