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IS THERE anything
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the latest target to stray into the ideologues' cross hairs. This organization, usually guilty of nothing worse than boring the pants off everyone who never got beyond Economics 101, stands accused to cooking the books to make the nation's September unemployment percentage (7.8) look better than its August figure (8.1 percent) and thus boost President Obama's chances for re-election.
Some take pot shots at the BLS because it's the messenger. Some do it despite knowing better, hoping that bluster can override facts.
Much of the uproar is because of differences in two surveys that are done monthly by the BLS.
Here are some facts:
One of the monthly surveys, the Current Population Survey, is a household survey. The other, the Current Employment Statistics survey, is known as the payroll or establishment survey.
The household survey includes the self-employed, unpaid family workers, agriculture and related workers, private household workers and workers absent without pay. That's the genesis
The payroll survey doesn't include these.
Both, the Bureau of Labor Statistics believes, are necessary to get a true picture of national employment.
The accusation is that the household survey shows an unnaturally large drop in unemployment, that the payroll survey is a more accurate gauge, that maybe somebody fiddled with the household survey numbers.
The same people, should they be interested in the facts, might find it interesting to know that, from June 2009 through this September, the payroll survey shows more jobs added (2.997 million) than the household measure (2.801 million).
So, if the household survey was somehow skewed to make September's figures look better than they are, why does it paint a darker picture than the payroll measure since June of 2009?
And why did the household survey show a drop of 195,000 in hiring in July (and a corresponding rise in unemployment to 8.3 percent) while the payroll survey showed a gain of 163,000 workers?
If someone's fudging the numbers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (and that's about as likely as the Washington Redskins coming up with a consistent field-goal kicker), they seem to be rather inconsistent.
And, by the way, last week's unemployment benefits applications were at a four-year low, further bolstering belief that the bleak job market is getting better.
The dull, noncontroversial fact is that economic wonks, in order to make the employment numbers as accurate as possible, have to take a lot of factors into account. They use the payroll and household surveys to get as clear a picture as possible.
In doing so, they create the opportunity for agenda pushers and general mischief makers to do the very thing they accuse the Bureau of Labor Statistics of doing--play fast and loose with the facts.
The old saw about lies, damned lies and statistics notwithstanding, sometimes, though, the statistics are just that--hard, cold numbers without an agenda.
Facts don't deter the global warming deniers or the people who think our president was born in Kenya, though, so why should they stand in the way of those who want to control the national political conversation?
Howard Owen writes this biweekly column on business and the economy. He can be reached at 540/374-5539 or howen@free lancestar.com.