Experts say it’s near impossible to manipulate jobs numbers

Posted at 11:06 PM, Oct 07, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-08 12:24:36-04

(CNN)Some conservatives cried foul after the better-than-expected September unemployment numbers came out Friday. 

But experts said it's next to impossible to manipulate the numbers. 

The labor department has a bureau that every month asks 400,000 businesses from all around the country, in all kinds of fields--from retail to manufacturing to hotel services--- how many people are on their payroll.

That number is reported as the payroll survey, on the first Friday of every month. It’s what is usually called the jobs number. 

In September, 114,000 payroll jobs were added.  

There is another survey also done, one from the Census Bureau.  

About 60,000 households are phoned every month and asked, among other things, if they are working.

In September, 873,000 more people reported working than the month before. 

That household report pushed the unemployment rate down from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.  

That's a strong jobs showing, good news for the White House. But some naysayers are wondering if it's too good to be true.  

Jack Welch General Electric's former CEO tweeted about the unbelievable jobs numbers.

“These Chicago guys will do anything…can't debate so change numbers,” the tweet said.

And the group Americans For Limited Government has suggested maybe someone tinkered with the numbers.

“Very convenient timing for the president,” Rick Manning, with Americans For Limited Government said.  “Uhm, if he'd mapped it out to be able to have it, this would be when you'd want to have it.“

“Uhm, you know he was facing 43-straight months of  8-percent plus unemployment, the longest time in history since the Great Depression,” said Manning. “And now to be able to break that streak with this report, uhm, is convenient.”

But that's simply not the case. First the Labor Department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics scoffed at any notion that someone manipulated the jobs report. 

“It's collected by about 2,000 interviewers, who are all federal employees, career federal employees,” Tom Nardone, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said. 

“And, so, you'd have to imagine that the people who participate in the survey, and they do this voluntarily, are for some reason trying to manipulate things or somehow you've gotten 2,000 federal employees to go along with something.”

And it's not unusual for the two surveys, one based on asking companies and the other based on asking individuals, to have wide disparities.   


The household number that shows a gain of  873,000 new workers includes all kinds of workers, including self-employed and certain agriculture workers. 

And it's based on a much smaller sample than the survey of businesses.  

“I understand people's frustration and suspicion when the unemployment rate goes down right before an election, but in reality all the federal statistic agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they're independent agencies,” Keith Hall, the former Commissioner of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said. 

“Ah, they have a long tradition of being very professional and very non-political.”

To change the report, well that would be a crime and also very difficult to do.  The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, calls the whole notion outrageous.  

“The notion that BLS is manipulating these numbers for political reasons is outrageous and totally implausible,” Lawrence Mishel said.  

He went on to say anyone claiming the numbers are manipulated, has never analyzed the numbers.