Monday, December 08, 2003

In The New Yorker, John Cassidy catches The New York Times falling for the hype:

Things are looking up --according to George W. Bush and the Times, anyway. Last Tuesday, the paper led its front page with this sunny triple-decker: MANUFACTURING AT HIGHEST LEVEL IN TWO DECADES; HIRING OUTLOOK IS UPBEAT; STOCKS AT 18-MONTH PEAK ON RUN OF POSITIVE DATA --BUSH OPTIMISTIC. The headline's main claim, however, was inaccurate. It misinterpreted an economic indicator that is designed to gauge whether factories are churning out more or less stuff than they did last month, not absolute levels of production. The most reliable measure of how manufacturing is doing is the Federal Reserve's index of industrial production, which in October was 112.7, compared with a high of 118.4 in June of 2000. The November figure comes out next week. A six-point jump isn't impossible, but it would be virtually unprecedented.

What we can be sure of is that most manufacturing companies are still operating well below capacity, and that millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost. In October, 73.5 per cent of plants and equipment were in active use. Three years ago, more than eighty per cent were. When President Bush took office, about 17.1 million Americans worked in factories; today, 14.5 million do. Last month, another seventeen thousand manufacturing jobs disappeared. Manufacturing employment has now fallen for forty straight months.


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