Monday, January 23, 2017

BLS | "Phony Numbers" on Their Way?

"Phony Numbers" Yesterday? Tomorrow? 
Jan. 23, 2017–The Trump Team attacked the BLS in 2016 for issuing misleadingly favorable numbers on unemployment. Trump called them "phony numbers".

In the second-last paragraph of his Op-Ed today, Paul Krugman wonders whether the Trump White House will be leaning on the BLS to do exactly what they were accused of under Obama.

The payroll job numbers are fairly hard to manipulate. They are based on filings by employers for unemployment insurance. If states with Republican governors wanted to influence the numbers they might be able to do this for a single month–for example by changing deadlines or filing procedures. But it is hard to see how they could do this easily over several months or years.

Meanwhile, blue-state governors–and some red-state governors–would be on the lookout for misuse of their data. Economists and statisticians are often alert when numbers that don't make sense and in the tradition of whistle-blowers they sometimes they speak up regardless of the consequences.

The household employment numbers are based on a sample of households surveyed by the Census Bureau, which reports to the Secretary of Commerce. When I was actively working with the numbers the Census work was paid for by a contract with the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, who reports to the Secretary of Labor; I have not heard of any change in this procedure.

One has to have faith that any secret changes in collecting these numbers, which have long been subject to scrutiny, would be difficult because someone would soon speak out in private or public.