Doing a job on the jobs numbers


Geraldine Sealey
October 8, 2004 11:33PM (UTC)

The White House spin on the lame job numbers bears shades of its spin on the Duelfer report. Where the rest of the world saw in Duelfer's conclusions the definitive undermining of the administration's rationale to invade Iraq over banned weapons, Bush and Cheney saw further justification for war. Likewise, the administration pretends to be perfectly buoyed today by job numbers that should deflate them heading into a presidential debate where Bush will have to defend his record. The new job figures cement Bush's status as the only president since Herbert Hoover to preside over a net job loss, and you can be sure John Kerry will remind him of it (The Kerry campaign already has an ad starring the job figures). Even with the "benchmark revision" of previous months, 580,000 payroll jobs were lost since January 2001. And yet -- the Bush-Cheney campaign has an ad of their own set to run on Monday that touts Bush's job creation record! "There are many reasons to be hopeful about America's future," the ad says. "Nearly two million new jobs in just over a year."

What's this? Two million jobs created in the last year? Well, then, what's everyone crowing about?

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In War Room this morning, Tim Grieve explained how Bush likes -- needs, really -- to talk about job numbers out of context. In this case, Bush has changed contexts on us. When he says 2 million new jobs have been added, he's talking about a different survey -- the household survey, as opposed to the payroll survey. As the Economic Policy Institute explains, the household survey is widely accepted by "nonpartisan government" experts as less reliable. Here's why:

"The payroll survey provides a more accurate picture of employment trends in the U.S. economy. In addition to being significantly larger (with a sample size 600 times greater than that of the household survey), it is also benchmarked annually to unemployment insurance tax records and less likely to be subject to large revisions or misreporting ... Nonpartisan government experts agree that the payroll survey employment numbers are more reliable than those from the household survey, despite Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao's erroneous claim that experts do not know which survey is better..."

In an "Ask the White House" chat today, Greg "outsourcing ain't so bad" Mankiw continued the spin -- another stab at the administration's ironically Hoover-like "we're turning a corner" argument:

"Today's jobs figures confirm that the economy is continuing to grow and add jobs. The economy turned the corner during the summer of 2003, when the Presidents Jobs and Growth bill went into effect. Since August 2003, the economy has created more than 1.9 million jobs (including the benchmark revision announced by the BLS today) ... We have the policies in place to create an environment in which business can expand and create good jobs."

In contrast to Mr. Mankiw's rosy assessment, the EPI folks point out over at JobWatch.org that there are nearly 3 million fewer jobs than the president projected there would be since his tax cuts took effect:

"The September job growth of 96,000 fell 210,000 jobs short of the administration's projection ... Job creation failed to meet the administration's projections in 13 of the past 15 months."

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Looks like John Kerry has another opportunity here to show how divorced from reality Bush and Cheney are on yet another important issue -- jobs.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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