Jobs Numbers and the Folly of a ‘Presidential Scorecard’

In Economy, The Upshot On
- Updated

The details of the August jobs numbers are disappointing, though hardly catastrophic.

The United States economy added fewer jobs than analysts expected (156,000, not 180,000); previous months’ job growth was revised down (by 41,000 positions); the unemployment rate ticked up a bit (to 4.4 percent from 4.3 percent); and wages continued growing at only a glacial pace (0.1 percent).

That may be a result of some weirdness that has crept into August numbers in recent years because of the challenges of measuring seasonal variation, or it could reflect a job market that is less vibrant than it had seemed a few months ago. Time will tell, and either way it’s still a fairly strong economy.

In that sense, these numbers highlight a widely made mistake in how we have been talking about the economy since Inauguration Day, and really for long before Donald J. Trump took office.

There’s an inevitable tendency to view economic data as a continuing presidential scorecard. On the first Friday of the month, a White House economic adviser goes on cable networks to either boast about or explain away the latest numbers.

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