MEDIUM RARE, WITH ONIONS

It’s Friday, February 4, 2022.

— It’s exactly halfway through winter 2021-22.

I’d like to think it’s downhill from here, folks. But if I do, there’s a 27-inch snowstorm waiting to zap me on March 4.

— It’s the 107th anniversary of the birth of actor Bill Talman.

He was best known for playing the district attorney with the worst prosecutorial won-loss record ever on “Perry Mason.”

What struck me when I was very young and my parents would watch the show on Saturday night was his character’s name: Hamilton Burger. Even at age six, it occurred to me that this was pretty lazy on somebody’s part; in this case, Perry Mason book series author Erle Stanley Gardiner, who obviously named this guy one day after lunch.

Talman died in 1968, at just 53, due to lung cancer. His other claim to fame was making TV PSAs against the cigarette smoking that took his life, some of the first ads to do so.

— When I worked at CNNMoney, we set up an office pool on the first Friday of the month based on the number of jobs created or lost in the prior month’s Labor Department report on nonfarm payrolls.

The payout was made right after we covered the story that day. It never occurred to us that we should wait a few months until the revisions came out.

I was reminded of that today when the January report was announced. 

First, after a week of expectations that the number would be weak, primarily because of the Omicron surge, the report showed 467,000 jobs added last month. That’s better than pretty good, although the unemployment rate – based on a separate survey – edged up to 4% from 3.9% in December.

Second, and more pertinent to my point, the 2021 numbers were all revised — as is the case every year due to an annual switch in how the department calculated the number (too complicated, not explaining it here).

So what had been seen as a weak jobs number in December, +199,000, is now +510,000. November’s revision was even larger, from +249,000 to +647,000.

But before you think these revisions are an unmitigated plus, consider June and July, each of which were revised lower by more than 400,000. 

Overall, the revision was a positive – an additional 217,000 jobs.

So here’s the point I’d make:

The jobs report is often a political cudgel. 

If it’s strong, the incumbent administration crows about it. If it’s weak, the out party decries a weak economy. Usually all this occurs within hours of the data announcement and plays out on cable news and business channels.

It might be too much to ask for the pundits to wait for the revisions. Because those who blasted the Biden administration on Jan. 7 should be chastened by the revision. And the Biden supporters who shouted about an amazing 1,000,000-plus job gain in July were, actually, premature. 

Who am I kidding? 

Like the CNNMoney jobs pool payout, there’s no backsies on political point making. The idea that the jobs report is just a gauge of the economy and a policy guide is not going to gain much credence.

That’s as obvious as naming a character Ham Burger.

Standard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s