Steep drop in unemployment rate called conspiracy
BY SCOTT MAYEROWITZ and CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER
Saturday, October 06, 2012
10/06/12 at 6:30 AM
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Sasquatch might as well have traipsed across the White House lawn Friday with a lost Warren Commission file on his way to the studio where NASA staged the moon landing.
Conspiracy theorists came out in force after the government reported a sudden drop in the U.S. unemployment rate one month before Election Day. Their message: The Obama administration would do anything to ensure a November victory, including manipulating unemployment data.
The conspiracy was widely rejected. Officials at the Labor Department said the jobs figures are calculated by highly trained government employees without political interference. Democrats and even some Republicans said they also found the charges implausible.
Yet that didn't stop the chatter. The allegations were a measure of how politicized the monthly unemployment report has become near the end of a campaign that has focused on the economy and jobs.
The conspiracy erupted after former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, a Republican, tweeted his skepticism five minutes after the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8 percent in September from 8.1 percent the month before.
"Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers," Welch tweeted, referring to the site of Obama campaign headquarters.
Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida soon announced via Facebook that he agreed with Welch.
"Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the presidential election," West wrote. "This is Orwellian to say the least."
The Obama administration wasn't given much time to gloat about the improvement. Instead, it had to defend statisticians and economists against accusations made without any supporting evidence.
"No serious person ... would make claims like that," said Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The jobs report is prepared under tight security each month by a relatively obscure government agency - the Bureau of Labor Statistics - without any oversight or input from the White House. It is based on data collected by an army of census workers, who interview Americans in 60,000 households by telephone or door-to-door.
Eight days before the unemployment rate is made public, the bureau's office suite goes into lockdown. Tom Nardone, a 36-year veteran at the agency who oversees preparation of the report, keeps crucial papers in a safe in his office.
A big reason for the security has nothing to do with politics. The data could move financial markets if it were released early.
Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, said that it's "not that unusual" for the rate to move by three-tenths of a percent in one month. It's happened 12 times in the past 10 years.
"In other words, at least once a year, you should expect that large a move," he said in an email to clients. "... we were overdue. That is just the reality of the data."
Original Print Headline: Skeptics reject jobless report
Jack Welch: "Unbelievable jobs numbers ... can't debate so change numbers."