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October 08, 2012


Brendan, the New York Magazine article just lists a bunch of nobodies with Jack Welch and Allen West. It makes it seem like the whole article wasn't worth the time it took to read.

And TPM should've done their due diligence in seeing if in fact, Sen. McCain was accusing the administration of manipulating the jobs' numbers. It seems to me he went right on to the next topic.

I fully agree with Brendan's point. Not only is Jack Welch's charge baseless, it's inherently implausible, given the number of people who would have to be included in this imagined conspiracy.

Still, when reporters attempt to tell their readers what is and isn't true, there's a risk that the reporter himself may be wrong. E.g., Brendan's 5/31/12 CJR article, which he links to in his current CJR article, includes a highly misleading chart made by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky.

Jack Welch continues to defend his charge. His defense includes some strong points:

The unemployment data reported each month are gathered over a one-week period by census workers, by phone in 70% of the cases, and the rest through home visits. In sum, they try to contact 60,000 households, asking a list of questions and recording the responses.

Some questions allow for unambiguous answers, but others less so.
The possibility of subjectivity creeping into the process is so pervasive that the BLS's own "Handbook of Methods" has a full page explaining the limitations of its data, including how non-sampling errors get made, from "misinterpretation of the questions" to "errors made in the estimations of missing data."
Meanwhile, we're told in the BLS report that in the months of August and September, federal, state and local governments added 602,000 workers to their payrolls, the largest two-month increase in more than 20 years. And the BLS tells us that, overall, 873,000 workers were added in September, the largest one-month increase since 1983, during the booming Reagan recovery.

These three statistics—the labor-force participation rate, the growth in government workers, and overall job growth, all multidecade records achieved over the past two months—have to raise some eyebrows. There were no economists, liberal or conservative, predicting that unemployment in September would drop below 8%.

Also, I want to rescind my claim that a lot of people would have had to be included in this supposed conspiracy. I have no knowledge of the BLS processes, so I don't know how many people would have to be included.

I can say that in my own actuarial studies, I generally could have made some minor adjustments that would have changed the result. Even methods that could be described as "unchanged" and "consistent" could include minor ad hoc adjustments that varied from time to time. Such adjustments were usually appropriate because of special aspects of a particular data set.

The ability to make such adjustments allows an unscrupulous actuary to twist his/her results. This sort of thing definitely happened from time to time.

In addition, I cannot rule out Welch's implied theory -- that field people (presumably mostly Dems) may have pushed a bit to get the unemployment number down in order to help Obama win re-election.

Bottom line for me: Welch's charge is still without evidence, but it's not necessarily implausible.

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