Is surging unemployment a sign of recession?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 5 2008 7:02 AM

Recession Impression

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times each lead with December's soaring unemployment numbers, which are renewing analyst fears that a recession is imminent. The Washington Post leads with presidential candidates in both parties retooling their campaigns to account for the results of the Iowa caucuses. The Wall Street Journal splits the difference, topping its world-wide newsbox with campaign developments and its business and finance newsbox with unemployment numbers.

Unemployment hit 5 percent in December, up from 4.7 percent the month before. The WP calls it the biggest jump in unemployment since October 2001. The NYT says job growth slowed to just 18,000 net jobs, the lowest growth rate in four years. The LAT does a good job of putting it all in context, rattling off a number of other recent economic indicators too depressing to list here. The WSJ points out that investors were none too pleased by the news.

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All the papers tie these unemployment woes to last summer's mortgage crisis, which tightened credit, thus slowing investment and growth. Everyone agrees that the numbers make an interest rate cut a virtual certainty when the Federal Reserve meets later this month. The NYT says the Fed might cut rates by an "unusually large half a percentage point." The paper cautions, however, that given the dollar's relative weakness and the high price of oil, a rate cut could stoke inflation down the line. The papers also mention that President Bush may announce an economic stimulus package in his State of the Union address to counteract the recent spate of bad economic news. 

The WP says the results of the Iowa caucuses put the presumptive front-runners of both parties on the defensive in New Hampshire, after both Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Gov. Mitt Romney failed to live up to expectations. Catching up might be harder to do this time out, says the paper, since a condensed primary schedule favors the candidate with the most momentum.

The LAT also offers its analysis of the coming storm in New Hampshire and, like all the papers, it frames the contest as being between "change" candidates and "experience" candidates. The NYT writes that the Clinton campaign is trying to recalibrate to appeal to the younger and more independent voters that gave Sen. Barack Obama his win in Iowa. But at the same time, the WP is reporting that the Clinton camp is deciding not alter its campaign message, continuing instead to paint her as the candidate of "experience." The WSJ argues that it's not a matter of image for Clinton—it's just about how hard she wants to hit.

Mike Huckabee's Iowa victory may be a boon for John McCain, says the NYT. Iowa strengthened the perception that the Republican field lacks a front-runner, since Romney's campaign is now struggling for its life and Huckabee isn't financially prepared to fill the void. The paper reasons that McCain can win New Hampshire and build on that momentum, he can give the party faithful the standard bearer they crave. The LAT concurs, while the WSJ says people are sick of front-runners; underdogs are now the order of the day.

The NYT fronts a story on African-Americans' opinions of Obama. The trouble is, it's awfully hard to generalize about what those opinions are—a fact the story freely admits. Some people say they could see his candidacy changing the way race is perceived in America. Others like him, but don't think he can win. Some don't plan to vote for him, but think it's nice that he's running all the same. Still others don't see him as authentically black. With so many opinions floating around, it'd be nice if the NYT provided anything more than anecdotal evidence. As it stands, the paper is just proving that hearsay comes in every flavor.

The WP fronts a column on how tired Clinton and Obama were as they rushed from Iowa to New Hampshire. The piece takes great pains to emphasize how hard the candidates are pushing themselves and how little they get to rest. But it also needles them for looking and acting tired, which just comes off as petty. TP will attribute the excess snark to campaign journalists not getting a whole lot of sleep, either.

Inside, the WP calls New Hampshire "make or break" for Romney and McCain, while saying that Huckabee is already looking ahead to South Carolina.

It might be hard to imagine now, but Baghdad's "Green Zone," an enclave of U.S. troops and other officials in the heart of the city, used to be a pretty exuberant place, according to the WP. The paper looks at how nearly five years of combat have changed the mood of Americans living and working in Iraq.

The NYT argues that Bush's efforts to fight AIDS in Africa might well be the most popular and enduring part of his legacy.

The LAT fronts a feature on recent archeological findings in Peru that may give some insight into a little-understood pre-Incan civilization.

The WP goes under the fold with a look back at the Washington Redskins' Cinderella-in-mourning-dress season, as the team prepares for Saturday's playoff match against the Seattle Seahawks. While the comeback story might move some, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer isn't buying it, saying it's "shallow" to link Washington's resurgence to the death of safety Sean Taylor.

The NYT declares lunchtime the new primetime, as more and more young cubicle dwellers are spending their lunch breaks watching Web videos while munching at their desks. Content producers are centering their production schedules around noon to make the most of the lunchtime crowd. Advertisers love the trend, since it combines targeted marketing with bored-at-work impulse Internet shopping.

The violence in Kenya subsides slightly while opposition leaders call for new elections, says the NYT

Think it'd be fun to be a PR person for a zoo? Think again, says the WSJ.

… Better to Read About Them Than Eat Them …

If thinking about ramen noodles in your spare time strikes your fancy, the LAT has just the profile for you.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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