America got a bit of good news today as the September jobs report was released. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the economy added 114,000 jobs in last month, and a revision of the July and August numbers show 86,000 more jobs than previously thought, lowering the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent, the lowest since President Obama took office.
While this news seems to indicate the economy is still slowly recovering, almost as soon as the numbers were released Republican strategists took to social media to claim the BLS, comprised of economists who do not work for a particular administration, cooked the books to help President Obama’s reelection chances.
Jack Welch, former head of GE, tweeted: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change number.”
Fox News reporter Stuart Varney, remarked: “Oh how convenient…five weeks before the election…”
Mitt Romney issued a press release saying, “This is not what a real recovery looks like,” and claims the “real” unemployment rate is close to 11 percent.
The rhetoric by the GOP claiming the jobs numbers were fixed forced Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein to write an article debunking the conspiracy theories.
Let’s take a deep breath. Jobs reports are about the economy, not about the election. Confusing the two leads to very bad analysis.
This is a good jobs report in a still-weak economy. The 114,000 jobs we added in September aren’t very impressive. The revisions to the last two months, which added 86,000 jobs to the total, were much more impressive. Those revisions also suggest that September’s jobs could get revised up — or, of course, down. So be careful about reading too much into that number. Still, these are, at best, good, not great, numbers.
The controversy, if it’s worth using that word, is over the unemployment rate, which dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent. That’s three-tenths of one percent. That’s what all the fuss is about.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The data was not, as Jack Welch suggested in a now-infamous tweet, manipulated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set up to ensure the White House has no ability to influence it. As labor economist Betsey Stevenson wrote, “anyone who thinks that political folks can manipulate the unemployment data are completely ignorant of how the BLS works and how the data are compiled.” Plus, if the White House somehow was manipulating the data, don’t you think they would have made the payroll number look a bit better than 114,000? No one would have batted an eye at 160,000.
Most independent economists argue these numbers show positive signs for the American economy, but I guess Republicans would rather see the economy take a hit than see good news under the Obama administration.