View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, April 26, 2004

The 4.9% Solution 

Colorado released its March 2004 employment numbers, and while they certainly present a mixed bag, the overall picture is as good as its been in a while. This doesn't prevent the Denver Post from accentuating the negative, even as they muddle the positive. Under the headline, "Colorado Jobless Rate Dives in March," which one would normally associate with good news, comes the subhead, "Experts say gain to 4.9% a mirage." Well, not exactly, and not unanimously, and who exactly is complaining about 4.9% unemployment, anyway?

Here's how the Post reports the good-news/bad-news:

The falling unemployment rate is caused by people giving up their job searches, said Tucker Hart Adams, regional economist with U.S. Bank. When workers do that - for a month or more - they are not counted as "unemployed." "There's no real good news in the unemployment numbers," Adams said.

The Rocky is a little better, although their Saturday report is wire-service rather than local reporting, which one might expect:

While employers signed on nearly 11,000 new workers in March, Colorado's labor force continued to lag from the robust market of three years ago, according to state figures released Friday.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in March, its lowest level in two years, the state labor department said. That compared with 5.5 percent in February and 6.1 percent in March 2003. The national rate rose by a tenth of a point to 5.7 percent.

The monthly report indicated the state was moving slowly in the right direction, economists said.

Now, while Tucker Hart Adams is a respected economist, with her own site keeping track of the Colorado economy, she is also on the board of the Bighorn Center, the liberal think-tank that launched Rutt Bridges's ill-fated Senate run earlier in the year. Ms. Adams is certainly one of the local newspapers' favorites. A Lexis-Nexis search turns up 133 citations in the last 2 years, on average several times a month. Only a single citation (released twice) turns up on a search for Ms. Adams AND Bighorn, and the Bighorn mention is in connection with Rutt Bridges, not Ms. Adams.

In other words, the Post and the News routinely make their first call to an economist associated with a liberal think-tank, one founded by an eventual Senate candidate, and have never disclosed that connection in their reports. Ms. Adams is employed by one of the larger regional banks, and no doubt for good reason, but readers are entitled to know about potential political affiliations when reading her sound-bite quotes for the papers.

In fact, those quotes are directly at odds with both the data presented, and the conclusions drawn. While some of the increase is a result of a smaller workforce, we don't actually know from the data presented whether people have left the state or have stopped looking. And Jeff Wells, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, says this in the actual Department press release: "March's decline reflects increased job creation and a decrease in the labor force." (Emphasis added.) Neither of Ms. Adams's quotes gives much play to the actual increase in non-farm payrolls that March saw.

When the two papers get around to examining the actual job increases, from the establishment survey, the Post uses the unadjusted numbers, while the Rocky uses the seasonally-adjusted counts. The seasonally-adjusted numbers show a smaller gain, so this isn't a specific instance of liberal bias so much as poor reporting.

The Post again:

More reliable are the figures showing the number of people employed and the job growth - numbers that come from employers and also are listed in the Labor Department's monthly report, say economists, including Adams and Alexandra Hall, director of labor market information for the state Labor Department.

Employers reported that Colorado added 15,600 nonfarm jobs - the majority of jobs - in March. Professional and business services showed the strongest growth of 11 employment sectors, with a gain of 5,300 jobs.

"That's great," Hall said. "For the last few years, (monthly) increases have tended to be pretty weak," or they've declined, she said.

However, nonfarm jobs fell by 6,200 from March 2003 to March 2004, which is of greater concern, the economists said.

Why a year-over-year decrease, which we all knew about, is more important than a breakout job-gain isn't immediately clear. And why do the economists, who may have been consorting with foreign leaders, remain unnamed? Certainly such a quote gives the impression that Ms. Hall's opinions are distinctly in the minority, which may or may not be the case.

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