The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to a near four-year low of 7.8 percent in September, the lowest since President Obama took office. Most economists were expecting a slight rise, so the number has raised suspicions that the White House might be cooking the books ahead of the election next month.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, quickly came out with a tweet, voicing his suspicion. On his Twitter account he accused the Obama administration of manipulating U.S. employment data for political advantage.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers…these Chicago guys will do anything…can’t debate so change numbers,” said Welch, 76 and a Republican.
Other GOP members also blasted the numbers.
“In regards to today’s Jobs report—I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here,” Florida Rep. Allen West wrote.
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“No, there’s nothing at all curious about the last jobs report diving to 7.8 percent unemployment before the election,” said Keith Urbahn, Donald Rumsfeld’s former chief of staff.
(To be fair, not all GOP members felt something underhanded was going on. As former Bush White House aide Tony Fratto put it, “BLS is not manipulating data. Evidence of such would be a scandal of enormous proportions & loss of credibility.”)
That is pretty much the sentiment among economists.
“I would be very skeptical of any claims the job statistics are manipulated,” Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C., told ABC News. ”If they were, the administration’s record so far in 2012 would undoubtedly look a lot brighter.” Indeed, as Ezra Klein points out in the Washington Post, the drop is a mere three-tenths of one percent, from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent–not exactly a reason to crack open the Veuve Clicquot.
What’s more, Burless said it’s uncharacteristic of the Obama administration to lie about something like this. “Richard Nixon was notorious for distrusting the BLS, and he probably managed to frighten some long-time BLS employees,” said Burtless. “But I have not heard any persuasive reports of statistical manipulation in the BLS, even during the Nixon administration. So it would be astounding if President Obama has been more successful along those lines than Nixon managed to be.”
Guy La Bas, a managing director, fixed income strategy, at Janney Montgomery Scott, a Philadelphia brokerage firm, agreed. “I don’t want to simply blast Welch since he’s a very respected manager,” he told ABC News in an email. ”In this instance, he issued an off-the-cuff remark which I highly doubt is true, but that doesn’t negate the value of his business opinions.”
But, he added, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which conducts the monthly jobs survey is a non-partisan group of hard-working people that have the public trust. Considering this trust and the controls imposed on their processes, the chances that the BLS actively “manipulated” data are extremely low, even if some of the numbers underlying today’s jobs report appear surprising. In my discussions with statistical organizations, political officials receive information about economic releases only after the numbers have been calculated, so there’s no opportunity for the White House–or anyone else–to alter the results.”