By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Some truth-telling from Paul Krugman about those April jobless numbers

Paul Krugman. Photo (cc) 2011 by 00Joshi.

No doubt you’re aware that the media have been mindless repeating the phony Republican talking point that the April job numbers fell short because the unemployment benefits in President Biden’s rescue package are too generous.

“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” according to chamber’s chief policy officer, Neal Bradley, who was quoted by Business Insider.

So it was bracing to encounter some reality in today’s New York Times column by Paul Krugman, surely the only full-time pundit with a Nobel Prize in economics. Here are some facts:

  • The economy actually added more than 1 million jobs in April, not the 266,000 officially reported. What explains the discrepancy? The number was “seasonally adjusted,” with the true number revised downward “because the economy normally adds a lot of jobs in the spring.” That’s standard practice, so it is in fact true that the April numbers were disappointing. But we are only just now coming out of the pandemic. Let’s see what happens in the following months.
  • “The expiration of the $600-a week-benefit introduced in March 2020,” Krugman says, “didn’t lead to any visible rise in overall employment; in particular, states with low wages, for whom the benefit should have created a big incentive to turn down job offers, didn’t see more employment than higher-wage states when it was removed.”
  • “If unemployment benefits were holding job growth back,” Krugman adds, “you’d expect the worst performance in low-wage industries, where benefits are large relative to wages. The actual pattern was the reverse: big job gains in low-wage sectors like leisure and hospitality, job losses in high-wage sectors like professional services.”

The Republicans are tearing themselves apart, trying to pump up their white rural base by attacking transgender kids and preparing to toss Liz Cheney off the House leadership team for having the temerity to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating has hit 63%.

Biden has made a big bet that he can build a winning Democratic coalition by proving that government can work again. Republican criticism of his economic policies less than four months into his presidency is a sign that they fear he might succeed.

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  1. MagellanNH

    People claiming that enhanced UI is the main reason businesses can’t find workers tend to ignore the fact that UI recipients can’t just refuse to go back to work. If a former employer offers a job to an ex-employee and they refuse, UI benefits stop immediately. Because the rates businesses pay into UI are based on claims history, employers have a strong incentive to accurately report on any job offers extended.

    Also, UI recipients have to certify under penalty of perjury that they’re actively looking for work, usually with weekly reporting. In some states they even have to show proof they’ve submitted job applications or explain why they haven’t. If a job is offered to a UI recipient and they refuse, benefits stop immediately. If they fail to report this or lie on their weekly certification criminal penalties apply.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I don’t want to fuel any right-wing conspiracy theories, but in fact those requirements were suspended during the pandemic. Biden said yesterday that it’s time to bring them back.

      • MagellanNH

        Fair point. It looks like it varies state-by-state (as of early April).

        >> “…They join 19 other states that have brought back the requirement, according to, a private website that provides information and assistance on benefits. The jobless could lose benefits if they turn down employment unless they have a valid Covid-related safety concern, thanks to revised rules issued by President Joe Biden’s Labor Department.”

  2. Steve Ross

    There is also another issue. As it became safer to go into stores, delivery folks are being laid off and retail folks are being hired. Hiring is always harder than firing. None of these things have kept progressives from claiming that the issue is lack of daycare!

    While I strongly agree that daycare needs a huge boost, and while Republicans ignore facts to a far greater degree than progressives, what will the progressives say when hiring catches up and seasonal adjustments are more in line with the more normal post-COVID world? First test will be the May numbers…

    BTW, note the stock market, which continues strong. Wall Streeters have many fictional ideas, but they do understand about seasonal adjustments and about how abnormal the economy is right now.

    Shame that zero cable networks and almost zero newspapers get it. We journalists are doing a terrible job on this!

    • MagellanNH

      No disagreement on these points, Steve. Although I will say one tiny covid upside for my wife and me was grocery curb-side pickup. We have no plans to stop using this service even though we’re now fully vaccinated.

      Maybe we’re outliers, but paying $5 (or less) to have someone else do our weekly shopping and load it into the car seems like a no-brainer. It shrinks an hour plus grocery store visit to 3-5 minutes.

  3. Steve Ross

    A lot of habits change. We did mainly delivery. Whole Foods is far enough away that the $10 tip barely was more than driving time and cost.

    My wife is immuno-suppressed and I was doing a lot of work for CDC, so who had time or medical clearance anyway.

    We’re now more than a month after vax, and my wife — who writes about food, sometimes for the Globe, has a need to explore the aisles.

    All of this discussion of the job non-issue had infuriated me. When the numbers were released and left and right pulled the trigger on their pet issues, but the market rose, I thought sanity would return in one news cycle. All this shows how wounded and stupid we all are. Not many adults in the room. Even Liz Warren, who rarely overreaches on data, rolled her daycare bandwagon right up to the gate.

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