Actual Washington Post headline today (3/11/10):
Rise in Washington Area Unemployment Seen as Good Sign for Economy's Recovery
Reporter V. Dion Hayes tries to explain:
Rising unemployment as a positive sign may sound counterintuitive, but economists explain it this way: The increase suggests that long-term unemployed people in the D.C. area who had given up looking for work have restarted their job hunt, perhaps because they see evidence that the region's economy is improving and that employers are beginning to hire again. On the other hand, the declining national rate indicates that discouraged workers elsewhere have remained out of the labor force because they do not see any reason to look for work.
There are actually other measurements of unemployment put out by the federal government that don't force editors to come up with such ridiculous headlines–and might help readers understand what's going on better. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the number of people who have given up looking for work but want a job ("marginally attached" people), as well as those who are working part time but want to be working full time; those numbers are publicly available, yet journalists rarely use them. (For more on such media malpractices, see Veronica Cassidy's article, "Misleading Indicators," in the January 2009 issue of Extra!.)