Jobs numbers come from a survey of employers. Unemployment numbers come from a survey of households. The results of those surveys are somewhat at odds this month, and while usually the establishment survey—the one of employers—is considered more reliable, this 210,000 figure comes after a several-month string of big misses. Monthly jobs numbers are regularly revised, but from June through September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics missed by massively more than the average, and some of those numbers are still being revised upward.
At this point, November’s 210,000 has to be regarded as a first draft. Maybe a pretty rough first draft. In fact, everything about measuring the current employment situation is difficult, thanks to the unpredictable and uneven recovery from the lows of the COVID-19 economy. Job growth for the year is very strong, but the U.S. remains 3.9 million jobs behind where it was in February 2020. Affecting the monthly report, jobs numbers are seasonally adjusted, with holiday hiring being a strong factor in November, but the pandemic may have disrupted traditional seasonal patterns.
It’s just hard to know what’s going on for several very good reasons, and economists are offering a series of cautions about interpreting these results. That’s the reality.
But the media has to have its takes, and the official media take these days is that everything is bad news for President Joe Biden. Aaron Rupar found a great example of what media bias really looks like: AP White House reporter Zeke Miller described it as “a sluggish 210,000 jobs,” a rather different tone than he took in February 2018, when he referred to a jobs report showing a “strong 200K jobs.” Rupar also pointed out that the unemployment rates at the times of the two Miller tweets were virtually identical: 4.1% in February, 2018, and 4.2% now.
All we can really say with any confidence at this point is that the economy is climbing back from the depths of mid-2020, but there’s still a long way to go. And that the traditional media is terrible, but that’s an evergreen observation.