The Soon-to-Change Unemployment Narrative

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A big topic of discussion at yesterday’s White House meeting had to do with who’s to blame for the fact that so few members of the public recognize that ARRA is working. I think this is actually a problem that’s going to turn around very soon. On the merits, zero is not a magic number. A month in which 10 jobs are lost and a month in which 20 jobs are gained are actually very similarly months. And to reduce the level of unemployment, you need large positive job creation.

But in terms of the public debate, zero is hugely important. It’s just difficult, as a writer or an advocate, to convince people that ARRA is creating jobs when everyone knows that there’s no net job growth. If there’s no job growth, then what jobs are being created? Then you get into counterfactuals and nobody is persuaded. But we’ll be into positive territory very soon. Which means you won’t be able to ask “where are the jobs?” The answer will be “the jobs are right here!” And when the jobs are right here, suddenly the data—which makes it perfectly clear that ARRA is playing a large role in supporting employment—will start to get the place they deserve in the narrative.