Jobageddon: Don’t Believe the Hype!

Tomorrow’s April Jobs Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is going to get a ridiculous amount of attention, particularly if, as some economists predict and virtually all Republicans hope, it’s less positive than last month’s, which was less positive than February’s.

The problem is, as Jonathan Bernstein reminds us at WaPo’s Plum Line, single-month economic indicators are rarely all that significant. Aside from the fact that this spring’s numbers may have been distorted by unusually mild winter weather that pushed up some seasonal activity from its usual timing, it’s all about the context and the trends:

Barring some unexpected major event, nothing will matter more to the outcome of the November election than how the economy is perceived.

But here’s what you should keep in mind when making sense of each new bit of economic news: It doesn’t matter who wins each individual news cycle over the economy. Instead, each economic report should be seen in the context of all the economic reports. And remember that economic data is subject to major revisions, often large enough to completely change the initial interpretation.

What to do? There’s no general index of economic conditions out there to refer to, the way that we can use the various polling averages as a reality check against which to judge individual polls that seem like outliers. But at least try to see overall trends, and try not to be distracted by isolated data.

Jonathan points to Brother Steve Benen’s useful charts on the trend-lines for unemployment claims as the kind of data that ought to be commanding more attention than monthly reports.

But get ready for Jobageddon in conservative medialand if tomorrow’s numbers fall, say, under 100,000 in net new jobs. Just keep reminding yourselves and everyone else that as Devo once said facetiously about evolution, it’s mostly “wind in sails.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.