So one of the stories of the morning is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics may delay the release of the Friday jobs numbers, thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Predictably, that has led to another outbreak of BLS Trutherism — only this time, the conspiracy has grown even more sinister. This time we’re not just talking cooked jobs numbers; now BLS is supposedly exploiting the Hurricane to prevent any bad economic news from getting out before Election Day. Here’s Chuck Grassley:
Labor Dept says may release latest Unemployment figures until after election. Par for course. Why release something might hurt Obama elect?
The last time I checked, this man is a United States Senator.
Meanwhile, others on Twitter are wondering whether a delayed release will help Obama — and what it will mean if Obama wins, and a bad jobs number comes out after the election.
Can we talk about this? Look, far and away the most likely scenario is that the jobs numbers — provided they are released — will have little to no impact on the election’s outcome.
It’s unfortunate that we have to go through this every month, but the hyping of this one metric has become truly ridiculous at this point. Do people really have such short memories that they have already forgotten what happened with the August jobs numbers?
As you may remember, the August jobs numbers came out just after the successful Democratic convention, and they were a disappointment: Only 96,000 jobs were created. Pundits went mad with discussions about how the jobs report would put a damper on Obama’s convention bounce, and conservative gloating was widespread. And here’s what happened: The race went from a slight Obama lead to a four point national advantage for Obama in late September, and a slightly larger edge in key battlegrounds, before tightening up again. There’s no evidence the jobs report had any impact.
What’s more, remember what happened when the jobs report for September came out? It not only found that unemployment fell to 7.8 percent — it also revised the August numbers up to 142,000. And so all of the hyping of the previous month’s numbers was revealed to be thoroughly bogus. Yet here we are one month later hyping this one metric again.
Look, it’s possible this Friday’s jobs report — if it comes out — will have an impact, but that will only happen if the numbers are unusually bad (say, below 50,000 or negative) or if they are unusually high (say, over 200,000). A very good number is also possible, which would make Grassley’s (seemingly willful) paranoia look even more absurd in retrospect.
If the jobs numbers come in between the two, as seems more likely, it just won’t matter much, if at all. The unemployment numbers are just one metric; they don’t come close to capturing the complexities of public perceptions of the economy. There are plenty of reasons to think people’s impressions of the economy have been baked into this election for weeks or months. The far more likely outcome is that the jobs report won’t change a thing about what the fundamentals have dictated about this election for some time now: This is a weak recovery, which ensures a very close race, with perhaps a slight edge to the incumbent.
The last jobs report was only a month ago. Can we learn from it?