Conflicting reports released this week by the government point to how inconsistent the economic recovery has been. Initial jobless claims and the unemployment rate dropped in June, but the nation's payroll growth was a paltry 32,000 jobs.
The payroll figure and the unemployment rate sometimes can go in different directions. But economists tend to look more closely at payroll growth as a better barometer of the job market.
The political spin given those reports during an election season should be obvious: **Republicans will point to the drop in unemployment and growth in manufacturing as signs of recovery; **Democrats will cite the lousy payroll growth and huge drops in consumer spending as signs of stagnation. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
Meanwhile, in the nuts and bolts world of feedlots and feed grains, USDA this week announced plans to change the way in which it reports the results of expanded testing for Mad Cow disease.
The ag department will now require additional preliminary tests before informing the public. The change comes after two cases in which the USDA announced that screening tests -- similar to these "practice" tests in a private laboratory -- could not rule out the animals had the fatal brain-wasting disease. When additional tests were done, it was discovered the cattle were free of the disease.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association was pleased with the announcement, saying the change "should help protect our industry by maintaining consumer confidence and reducing market volatility".
However, a consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it hoped the announcement does not "slow down the urgency of action the USDA should follow to protect the human food supply."
So far, more than 28,000 samples from cattle have been tested under a program designed to test at least 268,000 animals over 12 to 18 months.