The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post lead with half a percentage point jump in the unemployment rate, to 5.4 percent, the biggest monthly increase since 1980. The New York Times fronts the unemployment hike, but instead leads with a “baffled” FBI turning to the American people for help in the anthrax investigation.
"It's just an ugly report," a Merrill Lynch economist says in the LAT lead, referring to the surge in unemployment. "The economy is hemorrhaging jobs. Unemployment is rising rapidly, and it's going to keep going up for some time." Nine hundred thousand jobs have been lost since March, but almost half of those (415,000) disappeared just last month. Airlines, hotels, rental car companies, travel agencies—all of the industries hit hardest by the Sept. 11 attacks—suffered the deepest cuts, though retail sectors also fared poorly. President Bush wants a fast-acting economic stimulus package, but the two parties are divided along traditional lines, according to the NYT, with Republicans pushing for a tax cut and Dems favoring subsidies for the unemployed.
The LAT and the Post arrive at curiously divergent interpretations of the numbers for minority groups. The Post asserts that the unemployment rate “rose significantly for every major demographic group,” which may be true, but, as the LAT points out, blacks and Hispanics clearly got the worst of it. The rate rose a full point, to 9.7 percent, for blacks, compared to only half a point for whites, to 4.8 percent. The rate for Hispanics rose .8, to 7.2 percent.
The NYT lead depicts a clueless, one might say hapless, FBI, pleading for help on the anthrax case. Home sleuths are asked to have a good look at the tainted letters to see if the handwriting seems familiar, and scientists are urged to keep an on eye on colleagues who may be “doing different things with anthrax than they should be,” in the words of the FBI director. The bureau’s own handwriting analysis—an “imperfect science,” the Times reminds—reveals a letter writer who “may be growing bolder, angrier and more willing to take lives.” Although, as the Times says, the bureau has “no idea” who’s behind the anthrax attacks, the prevailing notion is that it’s a domestic culprit.
The LAT fronts President Bush’s decision to continue the fighting in Afghanistan through Ramadan, despite objections from Pakistan and other Muslim nations. In a separate piece inside the paper, several Muslims in Cairo who have thus far supported U.S. military action say they would likely reconsider if the violence intruded upon the holy month. It’s noted that Muslims have sometimes fought each other—and Israel—during Ramadan, but that it would be different if the U.S. failed to suspend hostilities. Bush has been unreceptive to this view. “The enemy won’t rest during Ramadan and neither will we,” he says.
A letter in the Post accuses the paper of acting irresponsibly when it reported that Bush was wearing a bulletproof vest when he threw out the first ball at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. “Haven't you just helped a potential assassin narrow his target?” the letter reads.
The NYT fronts the scuffle between police and firefighters “at the scene of their shared grief, the World Trade Center disaster site.” It started with Mayor Giuliani’s decision on Wednesday to reduce the number of firefighters working at the site to 25, apparently in an effort to ensure their safety. The firefighters must, however, as part of their code, according to the Times, retrieve the remains of their fallen comrades. And so they were on the scene yesterday, protesting Giuliani’s decision, when the “melee” or “shoving match” (the Times uses both terms) broke out. Twelve firefighters were arrested. Shortly after peace was restored, several hundred firefighters were “chanting their appreciation for the very officers they had just grappled with.” Tensions, however, remained high.
Finally, the LAT and the Post front the California shoplifter whose 50-years-to-life sentence, with no possibility of parole, was overturned by a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco yesterday. The man had stolen $153.54 worth of videos from two area Kmarts, crimes that would ordinarily have been considered misdemeanors were it not for his prior nonviolent offenses. He was sentenced under California’s “three-strikes” law, which mandated a 25-year sentence for each of the Kmart thefts. The court’s decision only applies to this particular shoplifter—it does not overturn the law. But the LAT says it could inspire similar appeals from other state inmates who were convicted under similar circumstances.