The Campaign Spot

Will We Get a Jobs Report Friday? At Least a Soggy One?

With roughly 7 million in the Northeast without power, some Morning Jolt readers may have bigger problems on their minds than political news. But the Tuesday edition is written and off to the editors, and should reach most folks this morning. Political news seems second-tier at most at moments like this, but for what it’s worth . . .

No Jobs Report Until After Election Day? You’re All Wet!

Wait, you’re saying we may not have much reason to watch CNBC at 8:30 on Friday morning this week?

Hurricane Sandy might force the Labor Department to delay the release of the monthly report on the nation’s unemployment, due Friday morning, the most hotly anticipated piece of economic data to come out before the election.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the data and statistics division of the Labor Department, is scheduled to release the October jobs report at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. But the hurricane has shuttered government offices and closed public transportation in and around Washington, and that might lead the department to delay the release of the report.

“We will assess the situation when the weather emergency is over and notify the press and public of any changes at that time,” a bureau spokesman, Gary Steinberg, wrote Monday in an e-mail.

Another Labor Department spokesman, Carl Fillichio, said in an e-mail that employees were “working hard to ensure the timely release of employment data” at the end of the week. “It is our intention that Friday will be business as usual regarding the October Employment Situation Report.”

The Labor Department has already completed the monthly surveys of about 60,000 households and 140,000 businesses and government offices that provide the raw data for the jobs report. But bureau specialists need to translate that raw data into the jobs report every month.

Economists do not expect great surprises in October’s jobs figures. The unemployment rate is expected to stay about where it is and the slow, steady pace of jobs growth to continue. In September, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, the lowest rate since President Obama took office but still elevated because of the recession.

Last month’s surprise drop that was so perfectly timed, folks like Jack Welch were charging the numbers had to have been cooked. Still, just about every economist who knows the inner workings of the Bureau of Labor Statistics says an effort to fudge the numbers is unthinkable. Perhaps the unemployment number merely was a statistical anomaly, a rare fluke that just happened to align with the desires of the Obama administration.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin laid out just why the numbers looked so weird — in fact, even weirder if they weren’t cooked:

In September, the payroll survey — derived from asking employers how many people they employed that month — showed that the economy created 114,000 jobs. This is consistent with an economy growing at 1 to 2 percent. The household survey — derived from asking households who in the house has a job — showed a stunning 873,000 new jobs. This is this highest that number has been since June of 1983. This makes no sense; it is out of line with any of the other data on the economy for September.

Even more amazing, more than 560,000 of those are part-time jobs. That is really stunning. One would expect that as extended unemployment benefits expire (and they are), some workers would migrate back to employment — that is a tried-and-true economic link. Some of those might first end up in a part-time setting. But why 560,000? And why in September?

If it was some weird quirk of the household survey, one would expect the following month to look “normal,” with households reporting a number much lower than September’s sudden 873,000 jobs. So thus, more interest than normal in what the October numbers say.

No rush to get those new numbers, say the liberals at FireDogLake:

Accuracy of the data matters far more than whether voters get a noisy, rushed data point on which to base their voting decision. If the BLS can’t make the numbers in time, they absolutely should delay it. But given how conservatives unilaterally decided that the last jobs report was rigged, I can only imagine their response to a hurricane-caused delay.

BuzzFeed points out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics fans, who dismissed talk of playing games last month, will find a pre-election delay hard to explain:

Former Bush administration official Tony Fratto — a strong defender of the BLS from charges of political interference — warned that any delay could post a “reputational disaster” to the agency.

“As you know I have been a loud, public defender of the Bureau,” he told BuzzFeed. “They are professionals, non-political, and the very best in the world at what they do. But my recommendation to them — as someone who wants to protect their credibility — please report the data as you see it. It would be a reputational disaster if BLS delayed under these circumstances. Move heaven and earth to report the data on time. Hurricane Katrina numbers were able to be reported and explained. Find a way to report these numbers, too.”

But Jazz Shaw concludes sometimes natural disasters happen: “Not for nothing, but if the BLS labor numbers are a little late because of a freaking hurricane, it’s not necessarily a conspiracy.”

ADDENDA: My brother: “This morning I hugged a tree, because how else do you thank it for not falling on your car?”

Nonessential federal workers in the Washington, D.C. area are off today, as well.


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