What do the new employment figures really mean?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 8 2009 7:10 AM

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Everyone leads with the newest jobs report, which finds new job losses declining to their lowest level in a year, while the unemployment rate sinks slightly to 9.4 percent, compared with 9.5 percent in June. The Los Angeles Times calls the report a sign that the economy is finally starting to turn around. While 247,000 jobs still disappeared last month, the New York Times writes that the relatively smaller job losses are a sign that businesses are less worried about the future. While that's hardly good news, it's still better than many analysts expected, causing the Dow Jones industrial average to rise by 114 points, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Post focuses on the more sobering side of the report, noting that the unemployment rate fell only because 422,000 people have stopped looking for work. If the figures were readjusted to account for these people, the rate would fall at 9.7 percent, the NYT notes. The LAT reports that 14.5 million total people are out of work, while another 8.8 million are able to find only part-time work. The NYT writes that adding those figures together gives the country an unemployed/underemployed rate of 16.3 percent, compared with 16.5 percent last month.

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If the recession turns out to be milder than expected, it's going to be because of swift, sizable government intervention program—at least according to the NYT. No, the paper doesn't offer any evidence establishing a causal link between financial rescue efforts and economic health. Instead, the author points to historical examples of governments that decided not to intervene in a financial crisis, with disastrous results following close behind.

The papers all off-lead with reports that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a missile fired from an unmanned CIA airplane last Wednesday. The LAT is the most ebullient about the strike, hailing it as a great blow to the Taliban in that country. Mehsud was the most wanted man in Pakistan, having organized the killings of approximately 1,200 people, including former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The WP is a little more cautious, noting that while Mehsud was the link holding the county's 13 Taliban factions together, killing him may prove to be just a temporary solution. The NYT is even more skeptical, as analysts note that counterterrorism operations tend to focus too much on eliminating marquee figures. Everyone notes that Mehsud's death puts the onus on Pakistan to take advantage of this moment and pursue remaining Taliban figures.

The WP fronts a look at difficult transition facing newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her first case will involve a test of the court's previous rulings on campaign finance issues—a little awkward for someone who just joined the team. The paper writes that joining the court is a learning experience for every new member, so scrutinizing Sotomayor's early actions on the bench probably isn't terribly useful, especially since many justices' ideological positions shift in the years following their appointment.

All over the country, members of Congress are back in their districts for the August recess, taking the pulse of their constituents on a range of issues, most notably health care reform. And wherever there's a congressman holding a town hall meeting on health care, there's someone shouting over the top of the member's comments, according to the NYT. While these might seem like spontaneous displays of voter passion, however, they're actually planned demonstrations by conservative lobbying groups, including the organization responsible for last spring's "tea parties." Meanwhile, an LAT column does a fine job of sorting out the nonsense from the facts on the health care debate.

As part of a continuing effort to get farmers in Afghanistan to stop planting poppies, the U.S. and British governments are about to launch a multimillion-dollar program aimed at encouraging other kinds of crops, according to the WP. The idea is to ease the nation's farmers off drug farming, thereby denying corrupt politicians and the Taliban of vital funding. Of course, the paper admits that the U.S. government has tried this sort of thing before in other countries and met with decidedly mixed results.

The number of unprovoked attacks against homeless people is on the rise, reports the NYT. Experts point out that 58 percent of these attacks are perpetrated by teenagers.

In the NYT's business section, Joe Nocera takes a look at the staggering challenges facing the U.S. Postal Service.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay made a name for himself helping struggling restaurants turn themselves around. Now the WSJ says he's got to fight to keep his own eateries open in the face of a difficult recession.

Really, really hate flip-flops? The WP notes the peculiar brand of rage that the seemingly innocuous footwear instigates in some people.

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

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