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Taking a hard look at economic McGrowth - Diane Wagner

Last week's news, as always, was a hodgepodge of various items but I couldn't help drawing a connection between two announcements.

The U.S. Department of Labor released data showing that about 300,000 new jobs were created over the past three months.

And McDonald's told Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary it would fight the inclusion of a new word: McJobs.

On the one hand, the Bush administration is touting an economic recovery and, on the other hand, we all know what the word "McJob" means even if it isn't in a dictionary.

The definition in Merriam-Webster's newest edition is "low paying and dead end work." You can't blame McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo for calling it "a slap in the face" to the people in the restaurant industry, but I doubt he's going to change anything.

Cantalupo said more than 1,000 former McDonald's workers have moved up to become franchise owners. I don't think he mentioned that the chain's current work force, not counting any "formers," is about 400,000 people.

But that's an issue between McDonald's and Merriam-Webster. Although the DOL's news also hinges on a definition, that involves us all.

The Associated Press quoted White House spokesman Scott McClellan as saying the unemployment rate's drop to 6 percent is "another positive sign for America's workers and families."

Economists also spoke over the weekend about how we are turning the corner on economic recovery.

The economy has, apparently, been picking up for a while. But it's been hard to convince everyday people who focus less on a company's profit margin and more on whether they and their friends have decent jobs.

The announcement of an additional 300,000 jobs allows those who look on the bright side to blame the unemployed if they're unable to find a position.

But, look a little deeper, and you'll see that joy should not reign unconfined. Job gains were mostly in the low-paying service industries, and the numbers include part-time or temporary openings.

Here are a few more numbers culled from the Associated Press report:

* The average pay in the retail sector is $366 a week.

* The average pay from temp firms is $318 a week.

* Nearly half the workers who have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer were white-collar professionals.

* The manufacturing sector lost another 24,000 jobs in October.

* In October 2002, 7.3 million people had to work two or more jobs to make ends meet.

* In October 2003, 7.5 million people were in that boat.

* Oh, and the unemployment rate for blacks jumped from 11.2 percent to 11.5 percent last month.

There's also the little issue of corporations continuing to move their headquarters (and higher-paying jobs) overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes ? that go to support the War on Terrorism, I might add. But that wasn't in the news reports last week, so I'll save it for another day.

Today I just want to point out that, whether Merriam-Webster's wins or loses its battle with McDonald's, we're definitely going to need a word for McJobs.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com.