September Jobs Report Neither a Conspiracy Nor a Cause for Celebration

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Can you imagine the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) deciding to surreptitiously manipulate unemployment figures to benefit Barack Obama’s presidential campaign? With the BLS depriving the Romney campaign of a core campaign rallying line—that unemployment has been over eight percent for the entire four years of Obama’s first term—a bevy of conservatives have come out as quantitative “truthers,” imagining that the Obama administration ordered the BLS to cook the books.

Leading the way for the “truthers” is former General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s charge that “these Chicago guys will do anything,” including faking jobs and unemployment numbers. The Tea Party’s Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) immediately noted his agreement with Welch’s contention about those nefarious Chicagoans. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) said he also had questions about the veracity of the jobs report. Welch and others are pretty clearly ranking the U.S. with other countries that some observers say routinely manipulate their economic data, such as China and Argentina.

In case you didn’t catch the reference, “Chicago” might mean the Chicago campaign headquarters of President Obama’s reelection campaign or it might be a broader epithet to mean crooked politicians like former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. People knowledgeable about the operations of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the character of BLS bureaucrats have pretty unanimously dismissed the Jack Welch conspiracy theorists as full of bull.

President Obama’s people are naturally thrilled to have a good jobs report that removes Romney’s standard eight percent line, shows the economy moving for at least one month, and—in this latest twist—reveals some of Romney’s supporters to be crackpots. The critique of the BLS numbers looks like the work of people who might also be wearing tinfoil hats. In any case, the jobs report isn’t worth celebrating. Without imagining that the jobs report is partisan one way or the other, nonprofits know that the numbers (which are derived from two surveys—one of households reporting on their employment status and another of employers on job creation) still reflect much misery among their clients and constituents. Here are the lowlights:

The BLS wonks aren’t getting into politics with some allegedly cooked books and faulty surveys. Even if the September numbers end up as a statistical anomaly, the problem of unemployment in the U.S. is real, deep, and unforgiving. The creation of 114,000 jobs in September may be meeting the needs of some new entrants into the job market, but the prospects of people who have been unemployed for weeks or months don’t look good. The prospects are difficult for people accepting part-time work because they can’t find full-time jobs. And the prospects of discouraged workers who have simply given up are awful. All this happens while corporations sit on their cash, earn hefty profits, and watch the stock market march close to pre-recession highs.

Will any action be taken or will this nation continue to kick the can down the road in the hope that “un miracle de dieu” will suddenly happen and alleviate the challenge to political leaders to do something decisive and significant? Hopefully, the nonprofit sector doesn’t rejoice or bemoan the September jobs report for its impact on the election, but sees in it the continuing pain of millions of American families.

  • Hilary Crosby

    The last paragraph of this piece has a definite partisan slant when it challenges “political leaders to do something decisive” instead of challenging the Republican members of Congress to forsake their stated agenda of making sure President Obama is unsuccssfull regardless of the cost to the American people.

    “Le miracle de dieu” will occur when the voters decide not to take this kind of obstructionism any longer, and insist that our elected leaders work together to solve our economic problems.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Hilary: Wouldn’t it be nice if our political leaders would work together to solve problems? I remember when the Nixon Administration was dismantling whatever it could find from the War on Poverty, that is, dismantling the programs that supported anti-poverty agencies, with Howard Phillips in charge of undoing much of what remained of OEO. At that time, I thought, there could not possibly be a more hyperpartisan political dynamic in Washington (I wasn’t alive for FDR’s presidency when his corporate opponents referred to him as “that man in the White house”). Even during the Clinton and Bush eras, when things devolved further into warring political camps, I thought that our inadequate sense of history made us mistake that era as more hyperpartisan than previous political eras. Now I’ve given it up. Not that I think Obama is providing much of a clear message and political line, but I see the unwillingness of political leaders to function and govern as truly pretty horrendous. While voters might want to insist that our political leaders act like grownups, I think the power invested in the 501(c)(4)s and PACs running intellectually demeaning attack ads has made the prospects for adult governing behavior difficult.

  • larry

    I will propose a reality that politicians, economists, media experts etc dare not mention – that 8 – 10% unemployment will persist far beyond this and probably the next election. Look at labor history for agriculture, manufacturing, and now any information oriented task. 10+ yrs of internet efficiency / progress has simply come home to roost. The workforce has been increasingly spread thin for the past many yrs. Corporations tasted blood in the downsizing of the 90’s. Thy operate much more efficiently now and quietly tolerate the side effects of thin staffing. Talk to a human at a tech or insurance company or govt office lately? how long did you wait on hold? its no one’s “fault” and pointless to direct blame. This will improve only when it becomes evident that attempts to increase demand / consumption will no longer solve the problem.

  • rick cohen

    Dear Larry: Thanks for the thought provoking reply. The implication of your comment is that it isn’t uncertainty that is making corporations sit on their cash. It is a sense that they will sit on their cash regardless. So if attempts to increase demand/consumption, as you say, won’t solve the problem, what will? Thanks again.

  • Larry

    Thanks Rick. Now that you mention it, i’ll revise my last reply. Biz leaders are probably well aware of the diminished returns of consumption strategies – i.e. market hype , product churn, customer churn, designed obsolescence, etc. But probably dont know what to do about it. To answer your question:

    Example A:
    Some yrs ago i got into bit of trouble – i almost collected revenue from a willing “customer” to offset the cost of my services (custom software & IT) which were otherwise funded by donations. I had unwittingly stumbled on what is now fashionably termed “social enterprise”.

    Example B:
    From the opposite end of the economic spectrum, we have the Open Source Software movement which has graduated from the fringe left to become a cornerstone business strategy. I believe it is one of the first examples of “functional Marxism” (shhhh dont tell anyone!…) What Marx could not predict is that its major followers would be (now are) fortune 500 meat & potatoes capitalists who recognize that the right flavor of collectivism makes business sense.

    My point is that we have the means to solve social problems and much could be gained by adjusting our frame of reference. Terms like “non-profit” and “foreign car” might appear to be descriptive and make sense but now constrain us in ways that make them obsolete.

    If we could franchise the “Open Source” & “Social Enterprise” concepts to say health insurance or social services in general, i think we’d be on to something.

  • Chris Bailey

    …and the attack at the Libyan Ambassador was a spontaneous event caused by a YouTube video.

    Oops, I must have dropped my tin foil.

  • Jerry Butler

    Rather than grasping at conspiracy theories we would be better off to understand why part time employment is increasing substantially. Could it be that employers who need workers and are uncertain of the effects of health care legislation are hiring part timers to avoid adding to their health care roles? Maybe they assume they can add full timers when they better understand the impact of healthcare costs. Or perhaps companies see another dip in the economy looming and want to be in a position to respond more quickly with easier releases of temporary workers if necessary?

  • Tom King

    While I don’t think that BLS manipulated the numbers it had, apparently California, for some mysterious reason, didn’t submit it’s numbers in time and they were therefore not included. Also, some three month old part time jobs were stuffed into the September figures as though they were jobs created in September. The administration can hardly be sad that the numbers look better, but since economists across the country were looking for unemployment figures to increase this past month, you can hardly blame them if they smell a rat. I think “crackpot” is a bit too strong. GE CEO Jack Welch has been a cheerleader for president Obama in the past and he’s one of the first to come out with the suspicion that something’s rotten in the District of Columbia. Just sayin’