Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Employment News

I saw an article in the Memphis Business Journal about Tennessee unemployment that tweaked my "take a deeper look" alarm. A quick site search turned up more information, and a fuller context.

The original article I saw says that January's state unemployment is 5.2%, which is down from December's 5.4%. It's also down from the year-ago figure of 5.5%.

All to the good, yes? Well maybe not. We are down from a year ago, but we're up from two years ago! State unemployment was 4.9% then. We've come down from a peak, but are still above two years ago. Oops! And this during a good economy, too.

While looking for that, I also found a breakdown for Shelby County's number that says we have 6.0% right now! That compares to Nashville's 4.6%. And our rate is up from December, when it was 5.7%. Sigh.

Does the Memphis unemployment rate even make the news any more? Is it another of those unpleasant things the media just looks askance at, hoping it will go away or mutate into "happy news?"

It reminded me of the scene from 1984 where Winston Smith's friend excitedly comes to him to tell him how the State had raised the chocolate ration to 20 grams! Except that Smith had just spent part of his work day carefully replacing a story about the chocolate ration being 25 grams. His friend only knew what he'd seen in the news, which told him carefully crafted good news.

I'm not accusing the Memphis Business Journal of "happy news." But it seems the story called for a longer trend line to make clear that the apparently good news is still troubling. A wider context was called for.

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