By: Bob Lucore
On Friday, the nation received some welcome news. Unemployment dropped to 7.8% and payroll jobs increased by 114,000. Immediately after the figures were released, Jack Welsh, Romney supporter and former General Electric (GE) Chief Executive, tweeted: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers….” This soon became a Republican mantra, with conservatives as varied as Allen West, John McCain and Laura Ingraham questioning the honesty of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers.
It is fair to argue with the BLS about their models, their methodology, or the assumptions lying behind their data collection. ADA has often argued that the official unemployment rate understates the true extent of joblessness. However, we have always relied on the Bureau’s own statistics to make this argument. I used to sit on the Bureau’s Labor Research Advisory Council and was co-chair of the Council’s Committee on Prices and Living Conditions. Spirited discussion often took place in that context.
Questioning methodology is one thing. However, questioning the integrity of the BLS is shameful, slanderous and outrageous. It is hard to think of an agency of the government better insulated from the influence of politicians or more subject to outside peer review. The economists and statisticians doing the work of the BLS are consummate professionals. Fortunately those with more level heads than the reality-denying Republicans have stepped up to defend the Bureau.
While the public servants at the BLS have a spotless record for integrity, the same cannot be said for their detractors. Jack Welch and GE have long been associated with “earnings management,” a polite term for “cooking-the-books” to make quarterly corporate earnings appear to be more consistent than they are in reality. Perhaps he thinks that government operates with the same ethics that he learned in the private sector.
Those with longer memories will recall that it was the Republicans, during the Watergate era, who instituted a purge of “Jewish” and “ethnic” conspirators at the BLS because Richard Nixon was concerned that the official job statistics would not help him get reelected. Timothy Noah reported last year on the part played Fred Malek in Nixon’s attempted purge of the BLS. Several public servants’ careers were directly harmed by his effort. Yet, Malek still plays a prominent role in the Republican Party.
What is especially irritating about these recent assaults on the BLS is that they are part of the larger attack on the public servants who work hard for our country. Jack Welch and his allies in the upper crust loudly proclaim their love for this country, at the same time that they attack those who have dedicated their careers to its service.
Bob Lucore, a long-time ADA board member, is the former Director of Research and Policy for the United American Nurses and has worked for the Teamsters and the Department of Economic Research at the AFL-CIO. . He taught economics for several years at Centre College and Colorado State University and is currently studying Library and Information Science at San José State University. Bob is a member of UAW Local 1981, the National Writers Union.Back