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Unemployment Below 9 Percent 'Bolsters Recovery Hopes' in 2011, But Little 'Consolation' in 1983

The unemployment rate finally dropped below 9 percent in February 2011, after 21 months at that rate or higher. The Labor Department reported March 4 that the rate had dropped 0.1 percent to 8.9 percent. The New York Times called it a "notable" improvement, but in 1983, the Times was downbeat about better jobs news.


"The economic waiting game may soon be over, as businesses signal that they are finally willing to resume widespread hiring," the March 5, 2011, story by Catherine Rampell began.


In that report, Rampell also emphasized that the 192,000 jobs added that month were the most for job growth in almost a year. Her Times report suggested the rate "could rise temporarily in the next few months, as stronger job growth lures some discouraged workers to look for jobs again."


The last time the unemployment rate dropped below 9 percent after a long period above that marker was in 1983 under President Reagan. Back then the Times was much less encouraged by the jobs report, despite a monthly drop that was five times the size of this year's.


On Nov. 6, 1983, the Times led its jobs story by saying that the 0.5 percent drop in unemployment to 8.8 percent "can't have been much consolation for the 9.9 million Americans who are still out of work."


The most enthusiastic statement in that 1983 story came from the White House which called it "exceedingly good news." But the Times undercut that comment saying, "however, some analysts said the drop may have reflected the fact that more than 500,000 people, many of them young adults, had simply stopped looking."


The disparity of the Times reports echoed the double standard of jobs coverage on the three broadcast networks. In 2009, the Business & Media Institute released a Special Report comparing coverage of jobs report as unemployment rose under President Reagan and President Obama.


BMI found that the networks were 13 times more negative under Reagan than Obama. In fact, 91 percent of the reports mentioning the Reagan administration in 1982 were negative, compared to just 7 percent of Obama mentions.


Even at the exact same unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, ABC's Charles Gibson covered it differently in 1982 vs. 2009. Gibson told viewers May 7, 1982, "[T]here really isn't any good news in the statistics. All the numbers are bad." But by 2009, Gibson had turned into an optimist citing "good news" June 5 and "hope the economy may be finally turning the corner" Aug. 7.