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Americans aren't paying attention to jobs reports

A job seeker looks at a bulletin board with job listings at the Career Link Center One Stop job center in San Francisco, Calif. Gallup's latest data shows attention paid to May's jobs report was below average.

Kai Ryssdal: It's been what, like six days already, but still a lot of the talk out there in the economic press is about last Friday's unemployment report.

But just for the sake of argument, how many people do you think -- and that's real people, not us -- pay a lot of attention to the unemployment number?

We talk to Frank Newport every week -- he's the editor-in-chief at Gallup -- about how Americans really feel about things. Frank, good to have you back.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you, Kai.

Ryssdal: So we did, as we occasionally do before we talk to you, our own unscientific survey about the May jobs report. We talked to people in Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and New York, and we asked them how much they pay attention to the unemployment report when it comes out.

The job report makes me worried.

When I hear jobs reports, I'm not sure that employment numbers are a very accurate reflection of true job growth.

It fluctuates so much, I don't pay too much attention to it.

No, I did not see the job report last week.

You know, I don't know what the 8.2 comes from because I think the numbers are very much inflated.

The 8.2 is the unemployment rate, obviously. They doubt the government's data, Frank, but what does your data show about how much we do really pay attention to these statistics?

Newport: Well you know, those people on the street we just heard seem to reflect what we find in the data. What we asked people is, and just to ask them was: How much attention did you pay to last Friday's unemployment and jobs report from the government? It was actually below average. We tracked hundreds of stories over the last couple of decades, and attention paid to this one is below average. I can give you an example -- it got the same attention that Americans said they were paying to George W. Bush's commuting of the sentence of Scooter Libby back in July '07. How's that? And that was below average as well.

Ryssdal: Wow, and other obscure factoids from newsdays past, right?

Newport: Yeah.

Ryssdal: It's kind of crazy. Which gets us to question no. 2 today, which is: How is the economy doing? If they don't pay attention to the numbers, then what is their perception of reality? Here, once again, are people on the streets.

I think we're muddling through something that's going to take a long time to heal.

The economy, at least for me, is getting a little bit better.

I just feel like things have stagnated.

I hear people saying that they're leaving their job to another job, so I guess that the economy's picking up a little bit.

All right, so by and large, even though they're not paying attention to the numbers, they've got the right vibe, Frank, right? They're sort of meh.

Newport: Is that how you would typify it -- meh?

Ryssdal: Well yeah, that's my detailed statistical analysis of that segment of audio, yes.

Newport: Yeah, it sounds kind of like what we're finding. We find that perceptions of the economy, our tracking of economic confidence is up from where it has been, particularly most recently last August, when it really dropped into the basement, but it's still underwater. There's still more negative than positive.

Ryssdal: Yeah. About that last clip there that we heard from a guy talking about jobs, how do people feel about the jobs they have? Are they willing to, eager to leave the jobs they have in search of better employment, or are they sticking around?

Newport: That's a good question. We don't track that on an ongoing basis, so we don't know what percent of Americans say 'I'm so confident now that I'm willing to leave my job and go find another one.' The question we track is: Is now a good time to find a quality job in America? And although that's slightly improved, we have about eight out of 10 Americans who say, no it is not.

Ryssdal: Yeah, they're sticking around. Frank Newport, he's the editor-in-chief at Gallup. He's here every week with us for our partnership, we call it Attitude Check. All right Frank, thank you so much.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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