Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers
— Jack Welch (@jack_welch) October 5, 2012
Immediately following of a jobs report showing unemployment below 8 percent for the first time in four years, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch accused the White House of skewing the numbers to help President Obama win.
Welch doubled down on his accusation in an afternoon interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying, “I wasn’t kidding.”
He argued that the gap between the number of new jobs created and the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived is too large. (Wonkblog explains here why the numbers are what they are.) “I am doing nothing more than raising the question,” Welch told the Journal. “It’s fact-based.”
In an interview with MSNBC later in the day, Welch admitted that he had “no evidence” to back up his claim but again argued that the numbers simply don’t add up.
As The Post’s Eli Saslow reported in March, career professionals at the Bureau of Labor Statistics come up with the monthly jobs report in total secrecy, walled off from all political staff:
They would do it all with absolute discretion during an eight-day security lockdown, signing confidentiality agreements each morning, encrypting their computers and locking data into a safe every time they walked 10 yards away to use a bathroom. “Is your workstation secure?” asked a sign in the hallway.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis called Welch’s comments “ludicrous” on CNBC Friday morning, saying, “I have the highest regard for our professionals who do the calculations.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest later told reporters that such theories were “utter nonsense … any serious person who has any familiarity with how these numbers are tabulated understands that these are career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that are responsible for compiling and analyzing these numbers and they do that on their own.”
Like News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, Welch wants Mitt Romney to win but has a habit of giving the Republican candidate unsolicited (and perhaps unwelcome) advice. This time, he’s not getting much support.
Former Bush administration spokesman Tony Fratto quickly weighed in:
BLS is not manipulating data.Evidence of such would be a scandal of enormous proportions & loss of credibility.
— Tony Fratto (@TonyFratto) October 5, 2012
Former Obama administration economic adviser Austan Goolsbee was more direct:
— Austan Goolsbee (@Austan_Goolsbee) October 5, 2012
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) agreed with Welch, writing on Twitter, “Chicago style politics is at work here.” Keith Urbahn, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff, suggested there was something fishy going on. Some Fox News personalities have agreed.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and economic adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, argued that the positive household survey “must be an anomaly – it is out of line with any of the other data.” But he was not suggesting a conspiracy, just that the numbers were wrong.
But the more popular Republican line is that if so many people hadn’t given up on looking for work in the past four years, the unemployment rate would be higher. While labor force participation went up in September, it is still below what it was four years ago.
Of course, there is one president who actually tried to manipulate the BLS — Richard Nixon.
This post has been updated.