Expect the ‘Unexpectedly’
In the Obama years, bad news has always surprised the media.


Jim Geraghty

It is the most common adverb of the Obama years: “unexpectedly.”

— “Sales of U.S. previously owned homes unexpectedly dropped in July,” reported Bloomberg.

● “Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region unexpectedly contracted in August by the most in more than two years as orders plunged and factories shed workers,”reported Bloomberg Businessweek.

● “Consumer spending unexpectedly fell in June,” reported Reuters.

● “Dismal economic data on Thursday pointed to an unexpectedly abrupt slowdown in manufacturing and a pickup in inflation,” reported the New York Times’ business page.

This is just in the past week; hundreds of articles each month note that some new bit of economic data is contrary to the expectations of experts. But the term is starting to become an object of ridicule within the conservative blogosphere as the country endures its third year of hard economic times under President Obama.

Three years after a financial crisis, unemployment has hit painful highs, GDP growth has been sluggish at best, and some predict a “double dip” recession. During this period, the Obama administration and its allies have repeatedly made bold promises about imminent prosperity — from an infamous chart that projected that the stimulus would keep unemployment rate below 8 percent, to the administration’s “Recovery Summer” tour of 2010, to Nancy Pelosi’s prediction that passing Obamacare would create 400,000 jobs “almost immediately,” to the president’s prediction that we would enjoy 3.1 percent growth this year and 4.1 percent growth in 2012 and beyond.

For about three years now, conservative bloggers have chuckled at how frequently the unveiling of bad economic news comes with the adverb “unexpectedly” in media reports. As Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, Michael Barone, and others have often asked, unexpected to whom?

“I think it’s a combination of cognitive dissonance, the terra nova nature of the post-bubble economy, and a healthy dose of partisanship,” suggests Ed Morrissey, who has blogged about the ubiquitous adverb regularly at

Perhaps the perpetual surprise reflects a media desire to focus on pockets of growth or prosperity — at least with a Democrat in the White House. In a widely diversified $14 trillion economy, one can almost always find some areas of economic improvement.

Certainly, a media that wanted to paint a more dire portrait of the economy would have no shortage of material to work with. There’s considerable evidence that America’s problems in job creation are much worse than the most widely cited numbers would indicate.

For example, President Obama spent much of the past year touting the number of consecutive months of private-sector job growth that the country had enjoyed. But that boast comes with some asterisks. Traditionally, the population of American workers grows each month, and while economists differ a bit on precisely how many new jobs are needed each month just to keep the unemployment rate stable, it’s often more than the figure Obama cites. The Heritage Foundation puts the figure at 100,000 to 125,000; some argue that any serious reduction of the unemployment rate will require adding 200,000 jobs per month. Only four months out of the past 17 have seen at least 200,000  jobs added; some months of growth have been minimal, such as January 2010, when the economy added 16,000 private-sector jobs,. Nonetheless, like a bloop single keeping a batter’s hitting streak going in baseball, meager months of job growth permit Obama to keep bragging about how many consecutive months he has presided over private-sector job growth.

Obama is lucky that these months of sluggish growth have occurred while a staggering number of Americans have “helped” keep the unemployment rate down by leaving the work force. From February 2001 to February 2009, the American work force grew from 143.7 million people to 154.4 million, an increase of about 10.7 million, or about 89,000 per month. In July 2011, the work force was back down to 153.2 million. For the entirety of the Bush years, the civilian labor-force-participation rate was never lower than 65.8 percent and remained between 66 and 67 percent for almost every month of the two terms. For Obama’s presidency, it debuted at 65.7 percent and has dropped to 63.9 percent, the lowest since July 1983.


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