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New Jobs Numbers, Same White House Message

New Jobs Numbers, Same White House Message

The White House greeted Friday’s news that the economy added jobs in February with a sunny statement, one that ought to inspire a creeping sense of déjà vu. Alan Krueger, chairman of Obama‘s Council of Economic Advisers wrote, “Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” Now where have we heard that before? Oh yes:

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In October, the unemployment rate dropped slightly to 9 percent. Krueger said in a statement, “Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but the pace of improvement is not fast enough.”

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In November, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent. Krueger said in a statement, “Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but the pace of improvement is still not fast enough.”

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In December, the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent. Krueger said in a statement, “Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (At least we now know when the pace is fast enough.)

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In January, the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent. but Krueger changed it up! No, we’re kidding. He opened with his favorite line, “Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

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Where it’s from: Well, the identical language started with the October 2011 jobs report, after Krueger took over as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and started issuing the statements. Previously Austan Goolsbee seems to have favored leading his notes with the numbers themselves. (He also didn’t often have as much evidence in his tenure that the economy was “continuing to heal.”) 

Why it’s catching on: Most obviously, it’s because Krueger has the same political message to send each month and doesn’t see much need to phrase it differently each time. Politicians might not like touring the country and giving the same speech over and over, but political messaging prizes repetition, and Krueger’s certainly not the first to stick to his talking points. Nor does the media seem to punish him. Journalists quote the phrase in news reports every month, and you’ll see it in several today.

Why else? The specifics of the phrase, particularly the hearkening back to the Great Depression, seem part of a wider messaging strategy. President Obama and his spokesman, too, often refer to the downturn as the “worst since the Great Depression” in speeches. Interestingly, the Great Depression turns up in Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s speeches too, but he says things like, “Today’s unemployment figures bring to 34 the number of months that unemployment in the United States has been over 8 percent, the longest such spell since the Great Depression.” The Great Depression is a powerful symbol for both sides. But Obama usually says the “worst downturn” whereas Romney usually notes it’s the “longest.” Obama and Krueger are trying to emphasize the severity of the crisis they inherited from a Republican predecessor while Romney’s trying to emphasize the extent to which it has continued through Obama’s administration. All valid. But, as with any cliché, an overused phrase quickly loses all meaning for the reader. For the White House, say the economy is “healing” in the same way enough times, and people will stop listening. So maybe it’s time for a new press release in March.

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