Don’t break out the champagne yet

For several years, I worked on the copy desk at a financial news wire. The learning curve for such a job was steep. I didn’t know a basis point from a bond issue, let along the difference between a put and a call. I saw so many acronyms and abbreviations it made my head swim. And, it was during one of my shifts that I and dozens of other editors and reporters froze in horror, watching our computer screens as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell about 600 points in five minutes during the infamous “Flash Crash.”

It was surreal. Many younger members of the staff had unintentionally stopped working. (It was a real-time news operation, in which items were constantly being sent out to subscribers.) But a seasoned veteran quickly called us all back to attention with a “Get back to work! This won’t last.”

He was right, of course. Within half an hour, the DJIA had regained several hundred points.

That editor and my years of experience reading financial news day in and day out taught me a few things. For example, I can understand this headline more quickly as-written than I probably could if everything was spelled out: USD Buoyant Before FOMC on Strong CPI. (My thanks to a former colleague, who passed that along because she wasn’t sure whether to be embarrassed or proud that she could read such alphabet soup.)

On a more serious note, having the benefit of a little knowledge and experience made me a bit of an economic cynic. When I read stories such as the ones from Thursday that shouted about the DJIA closing above 17,000 for the first time, 288,000 jobs “added” to the economy in June, and unemployment down to 6.1 percent nationally, a gruff voice in my head barks “This won’t last.”

Among the reasons for my negativity are other sets of figures, such as the revelation that 32 states continue to have fewer jobs than when the recession began in December 2007. Recovery has not reached all corners of the country evenly. In fact, it has not reached more than 60 percent of the country (geographically speaking). We’re not talking about rural backwaters, here, either. New Jersey is still down 170,000 jobs from its late-2007 figure. Illinois never re-gained a whopping 184,000 jobs.

Even in the mostly glowing June numbers, there was mention that 3 million Americans were listed as being unemployed for six months or longer, and that slight increases in hourly wages are likely not enough to keep up with price increases. And, by the way, a good many of the new jobs in June were part-time positions. The number of full-time workers declined.

Think about your own economic situation compared with, say, 2006 – or even 2009, which is when economists declared the Great Recession over.

Doesn’t quite feel as though we should all be breaking out the champagne and singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” does it?

I hope I am wrong. Maybe newsflashes shouting “Dow 17,000!” will, indeed, increase optimism enough to help us all fake it until we make it. But a quick look a little deeper than the headlines tells me not to celebrate just yet.

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Speaking of numbers – and as a follow-up to last week’s column: It is amazing the mental math that takes place while staring at the display on a treadmill. I catch myself regularly trying to extrapolate my potential finishing time for 13.1 miles based on the mph displayed for the 5.5 miles I have completed, etc. Of course, the time always adds up to something ridiculously long, and I know I must be doing something wrong …

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com