Release Of Jobs Report Gives Birth To The Unemployment Truthers
Within minutes after the September Jobs Report was released, we began to notice a new phenomenon online. In response to a report that showed a weak 114,000 net jobs created and yet at the same time showed the U-3, the narrowest and most publicized of the Labor Department’s measures of the job market, falling by 0.3 of a point, some conservatives started to accuse the Obama Administration of cooking the books:
The release Friday of unexpectedly positive jobs numbers immediately touched off a conspiracy theory among conservatives, who suggested the data was being manipulated to benefit President Barack Obama’s reelection.
“Chicago style politics is at work here,” Florida GOP Rep. Allen West wrote on his Facebook page. “Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election. This is Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book ‘Rules for Radicals’- a must read for all who want to know how the left strategize.”
West added, “Trust the Obama administration? Sure, and the spontaneous reaction to a video caused the death of our Ambassador……and pigs fly.”
Other conservatives agreed and targeted the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the unemployment data.
“Either the Federal Reserve, which has its fingers on the pulse of every element of the economy, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics manufacturing survey report are grievously wrong or the number used to calculate the unemployment rate are wrong, or worse manipulated,” Americans for Limited Government declared in a press release. “Given that these numbers conveniently meet Obama’s campaign promises one month before the election, the conclusions are obvious.”
The group’s president, Rick Manning, quipped that Obama must have hired “infamous Iraqi Information Minister Baghdad Bob to calculate the unemployment rate. Anyone who takes this unemployment report serious is either naïve or a paid Obama campaign adviser.”
Conn Carroll, an editorial writer at the conservative Washington Examiner, had a slightly different theory.
“I don’t think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect.” — Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) October 5, 2012
Market analyst Rick Santelli said on CNBC: “I told you they’d get it under 8 percent — they did! You can let America decide how they got it there.”
Newsbusters, a conservative media criticism website, said Santelli’s comments ”put a big question mark over the validity of the data.”
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said it was “ludicrous” to suggest the data had been manipulated to boost Obama.
“I’m insulted when I hear that because we have a very professional civil service organization where you have top, top economists that work at the BLS,” Solis said on CNBS. “They’ve been doing these calculations. These are our best trained and best-skilled individuals working in the BLS, and it’s really ludicrous to hear that kind of statement.”
Even Jack Welch, the former Chairman of General Electric, joined in the denialism:
Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers
— Jack Welch (@jack_welch) October 5, 2012
The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll had a completely different theory, he thinks people deliberately lied to the BLS:
I don’t think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect.
— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) October 5, 2012
Buzzfeed has also collected Tweets from others on the right repeating the idea that the drop in the U-3 numbers was some kind of conspiracy.
I’m sure by the end of the day, the idea that the unemployment numbers are fabrications will be the newest meme on the right. It won’t be embraced by everyone, of course, and you’re not going to see the Romney campaign or any Republican that is slightly more sane than Allen West repeat these allegations. Already we’ve seen conservatives like Philip Klein, Erick Erickson, and James Pethokoukis dismiss the allegations. Nonetheless, this latest conspiracy theory will make its way through the blogosphere and the Twitterverse in the exact same manner as the nonsense about polling did last week. The fact of the matter is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a completely non-political wing of the Labor Department. Its employees are all career government officials with the exception of the Commissioner, and that office is currently empty because President Obama has yet to name a replacement for the former Commissioner. Additionally, the argument makes no sense if you have an idea how these numbers are used and how they are compiled:
The underlying data behind the BLS reports is also publicly released and used by analysts across the private sector and academia, meaning a conspiracy would have to survive scrutiny from trained economists of all political stripes.
Nor is there much time to cook the books at the top level if they wanted to.
“I worked for Secretary Hilda Solis and she didn’t know the job numbers until 8 a.m. on the day,” Stevenson said. “Which made my job very difficult, because I had to help her figure out what she was going to say when they were released.” The BLS releases the numbers publicly at 8:30 a.m. ET.
The idea that these people are engaged in a conspiracy to “cook the books” is simply absurd. After all, if they were going to do that, wouldn’t they have made the job creation numbers look better too?
None of this is to say that the BLS reports are gospel. They’ve been known to be off in the past, which is why the office issues revisions for previous month’s numbers for at least two months afterwards. Additionally, the practice of seasonally adjusting the numbers that go into making up the U-3 rate has been questioned in the past by some economists because it may not be accurately reflecting what’s going on in the economy. That’s not what these people are saying, though. They’re not calling the Bureau’s statistical methodology into question, they’re saying the the Bureau is quite simply lying, without any evidence to back that up. The BLS numbers may not be completely reliable, but if you’re going to argue that they’re entirely false, you’ve got to provide some evidence to support that, and they have none.
I already discussed one of the factors that likely explains the drop in U-3 despite the fact that only 114,000 jobs were created last month, and it lies in the fact that some 86,000 jobs were added to the figures for July and August. Over at National Review, Kevin Hassett provides another explanation:
The report, of course, reveals the results of two surveys, one of households, one of establishments. The professional economists and the press usually emphasize the establishment survey because it is viewed as less volatile. The establishment survey was terrible. The 114,000 number of jobs created on net in September is well below the average for this year (146,000) and the average for last year (153,000). This is wholly consistent with the story that the economy is decelerating sharply as we head into the fall.
The household survey, on the other hand, portrays a September that was booming, far more so than could possibly be true given the other indicators. According to it, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, with total employment jumping by a whopping 873,000. I wish it were true, but it will likely be a blip when we have a few more months of data.
University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers made a similar point in an interview with Talking Points Memo when he noted that, ”It’s not unusual — the household survey is a noisy measure, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s why most analysts rely more on the payroll survey.” So, basically, we’re talking about two completely different surveys, only one of which, the Household Survey, influences the U-3 rate. It also happens to be the more volatile of the two surveys, which is why there’s reason to expect that some of the gains reflected there may end up being wiped away by revisions during the coming months. That’s the reason for the discrepancy, not some vast conspiracy. But, then, we’re talking about people who seem to be finding conspiracies behind every rock these days so it’s not really surprising that they’d adopt this completely unsupported theory.
Update: Ezra Klein goes into more detail about why the conspiracy theorists are wrong.
Update #2: Rick Moran is one conservative not buying the conspiracy theories.