Clap Louder? (WaPo and GDP growth)

This one’s for Brad. The Washington Post’s Neil Irwin should have his license to write about economic news revoked. His lede:

The U.S. economy grew at a healthy pace in the second quarter, the government said today, despite being buffeted by a financial crisis, a deep housing slump, high fuel prices and a weak job market.

Gross domestic product rose at a 1.9 percent inflation-adjusted annual rate in the April through June period, far above what forecasters would have expected just a few months ago.

Compare Bloomberg:

The U.S. economy shrank at the end of 2007 and grew less than forecast in this year’s second quarter, signaling that the country is in worse shape than many investors and analysts had thought…

The economy may weaken further as the temporary boost from tax rebates, which aided a pick-up in gross domestic product last quarter from the previous three months, fades.

U.S. population growth is around 0.9% p.a. So real GDP growth of -0.2%, 0.9%, and 1.9% for the last three quarters implies growth per capita of roughly -1.1%, 0%, and 1%, respectively, with hopes for Q3 not exactly running high. How on earth can a reporter with half a brain call that a “healthy pace,” and an editor let the claim into print?

Added: Here’s an optimistic but informed take from Prof. Hamilton; my concern is that lots of mischief can be made with “apart from the things that were bad, things were pretty good!” arguments.

Update: The current version of the story (12:39 P.M.) replaces “healthy” with “solid,” and adds a “but” paragraph before the “above what forecasters would have expected” bit.