The front page “Jobs Report” is never what it seems

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Raw statistics don’t tell The Real Story, like the net loss of 70,000 highly skilled professional Canadian jobs in a year.  Meanwhile, the news media is AWOL.

OTTAWA — The Canadian Press — Jan. 4, 2013 The Canadian economy created 40,000 jobs in December — all of it in full-time work — and drove the unemployment rate to its lowest in four years, Statistics Canada said Friday.

Every time another jobs report is issued by either the US or Canadian federal government, much fanfare is made by national media about the percentage rise or fall.  The most recent in Canada showed the unemployment rate dropping to a “4 year low.”  All the news organizations, whether TV, print or web, touted this as an indication from God Himself that the world was on the right path.

And politicians treated it as gospel.

Something similar happened the next day in the US with the headline “U.S. adds 155k jobs, unemployment rate holds” as seen in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Then, as they invariably do, each story went on to summarize raw numbers by private sector, government, farm, construction and so forth, as well as some regional variations.  With these increases, or at least no losses, all is good, right?  Um, no.



To paraphrase Home Improvement’s Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, back the Brinks truck up for a minute.

This morning, a tweet from University of Ottawa economist Miles Corak linked to the following story on Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper website.  I would have missed it, otherwise, as did most people.  Actually, the article was under a rock in the Economy section, similar to behind the classified ads next to the death notices in an actual newspaper:


Hot or not? Canada’s sturdy job market varied below the surface

Canada’s labour market put in a remarkably sturdy showing in 2012, given the choppy global economic climate and a marked slowdown in domestic activity in the last half of the year. All told, employers churned out 312,000 jobs — all in full-time work — and the country’s unemployment rate ebbed to a four-year low of 7.1 per cent in December from 7.5 per cent a year earlier.

But wait for the punchline…

Considerable variations lie behind how the labour market fared by sector, demographic group and province.

The article went on to spell out what were strong performers in the labour market: older women (55+), modestly paid salaried workers, utilities and education. On the weak side were youth, self-employed (doing so by choice or necessity, or forced into taking a temporary contract position), government, professional and technical workers. Of the latter, 70,000 “typically higher paying” professional and technical jobs were lost in just one year — representing the most serious decline of all sectors. And this is still a “sturdy” job market?


An increase in jobs can actually be misleading and discouraging:  It’s the quality that counts.

“The News Media” puts all this coverage concerning the monthly unemployment rate on the front burner and hypes it for a news cycle.  But, in fact, the overall unemployment rate is raw data that means nothing by itself.  Income levels are rarely discussed anywhere, whether in Canada or the US.  An analytical article like this with The Real Story gets next to no coverage or public interest.  What this data tells me: good middle class jobs are going away and getting replaced with poorly paid service or survival jobs.

How many pre-recessionary mid to upper middle class Canadians and Americans are now scraping by?  Or are long-term unemployed or underemployed?  A 55-year-old former executive in Toronto simply cannot head to northern Alberta’s oil sands and start cutting pipe, unlike the “bulletproof” 20-somethings.  And neither can his counterpart in Chicago or New York drop everything to go fracking for oil in low-unemployment North Dakota.  Those well paid middle class (and often middle-aged) people, and not the Wal-Mart greeters or call center employees on subsistence wages, must be the economy’s engine.

But, we see there are now 70,000 fewer as of these latest numbers in Canada.   If extrapolated out to a country the size of the US, that would be 700,000 well-paid middle-class  jobs lost since December 2011.  How many former $50/hour people are now working in retail or taking calls for Staples in Canada?

Young Canadians and Americans, our next “fuel” for our economic engines, are getting thrown onto the scrap-heap, too.  Worse: almost nobody is paying attention, considering that the “Hot or not” Globe & Mail story is in the bowels of the website’s economy section, and not on Page 1 of the printed national newspaper where it should be.  Just where is the media on this?  This headline should be in big red letters on the front page, and not buried at the back of the business section as it was today.  Middle class Canadians should be ranting and marching on Ottawa, but as comedian and social commentator Rick Mercer has pointed out, Canadians don’t rant enough.

As I wrote in response to Dr. Corak’s January 4 article about “Secure jobs on the rise in Canada, but the young are still shut out of the jobs market:”

Completely missing from all jobs reports is corresponding “drill down” data on mobility: median salaries, professions, level of education, percentages of folks who are underemployed (and by how much and by profession), etc. Data for the entire picture that adds to, or detracts from, an economy is needed. This lack of information is a constant in Canada as well as the US. A job is a job, right? Wrong.

Questions we need answers to:

  • What about median consumers’ / workers’ real purchasing power? Declining? Increasing? And why?
  • Did the lowering of Canada’s corporate tax rate create (or save) any jobs? Or did the saved revenue just get stacked alongside the other that was sitting there already in corporate accounts?
  • Are well-paying industrial or professional jobs being replaced by low paid call center workers and retail? (e.g. how many pre-recession $60/hour people with undergrad or graduate degrees are now working at call centers for $12?)

Of course, these are metrics most politicians in power would want to be kept out of the public domain, or at least under their radar. Raw unemployment statistics as released by Ottawa or Washington mean close to nothing. With real “Big Data,” and a correct analysis, we would know if folks made lateral salary moves, their pay went up, or it was drastically decreased. That information would be a much better and more concise indicator on the direction of the economy.

The professor was right in his response to me that data to answer many of these questions is available from the Statistics Canada website, just as similar data is obtainable on US issues from the Office of Personnel Management and other government sources.  However, are Canadians and Americans heading there in droves to crunch the numbers?  No.  They are depending on journalists to take care of that and tell the public about it.  And that, sad to say, is not happening.

What would be real journalism?  Finding some of those 70,000 people and doing a feature story — heck, a whole section — on what happened and what they’re doing now.  There are so many, that should be pretty easy.  But that would take shoe leather and real reporting, similar to what Paul Solman does on the PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$e series.  But, why would anyone want to do that?

Jonathan Blaine

I've always called myself a "Marketing Guy." If I had a brand and logo, perhaps that would be my slogan. Measuring ROI is huge. Just because you're now using "new media" does not mean marketing fundamentals should be discarded. Customers' desires do not change. I'm a "right-brained creative analytical" guy (if you can fathom such a thing) who looks at a project several different ways. My first instinct is usually the correct one. I'm a "doer," and often a "diplomatic fixer;" someone who gets things done and still gets a thrill out of customers actually buying something because of something I mailed to them, or an ad I placed. Most of my success has come from strategy, writing, how ideas are presented to the potential customer and the actual thoughts that somehow originate within the ether between my ears. As a fan of DM guru Denny Hatch, I believe that the brand should never outweigh the message, and that art should never win over copy. The mix has to be “just right.” And continually tested. I have solid ryttan, err, written and verbal communication skills, and a reputation for consistently producing cost-effective quality work.

2 Replies to “The front page “Jobs Report” is never what it seems

  1. Hi Jonathan, Great points. The CNN, FOX News approach to employment stats can easily make us think “Things are looking up.” It’s just not as simple as that. Thank You for the reality check.

  2. “This is so true. I was making over $40 / hr. I am now looking at jobs in $18 – $24 range. If I do find a position, I will no longer be ‘unemployed,’ but my contribution to economic activity in my community will be a small fraction of what it was. Dining out, entertainment, any extras are gone from the budget.”
    – Comment from a job seeker and current student at my alma mater pursuing his undergrad degree, and who worked with a national membership organization in the IT department for 2 decades in Seattle.

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