We’ve hit that moment in the election when people begin to lose their minds. Case in point, within minutes of the jobs report, Twitter filled with Republicans claiming
the books were somehow cooked, the numbers aren’t real, etc.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.
The fact is that there’s not much that needs to be explained here. We’ve seen drops like this — and even drops bigger than this — before. Between July and August the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent — two-tenths of one percent. November-December of 2011 also saw a .2 percent drop. November-December of 2010 saw a .4 percent drop. This isn’t some incredible aberration. The fact that the unemployment rate broke under the psychologically important 8 percent line is making this number feel bigger to people than it really is.