Right-wing media, led by the Drudge Report, are pushing a conspiracy theory that the Labor Department will use Hurricane Sandy to delay releasing October jobs data until after the election. This scaremongering is a continuation of the right-wing conspiracy theory that the government is manipulating economic data to help re-elect President Obama.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to release October jobs data, including the official unemployment rate, on Friday -- days before the presidential election. But Labor Department officials have reportedly said that it will be difficult for economists to access the employment data, which can only be accessed on site, as long as the federal government is shut down due to the storm.
An October 29 Wall Street Journal blog post quoted a spokesman for the Bureau of Labor Statistics saying that the bureau would assess the situation after the storm passes and notify the public if it needed to change its release schedule.
In a subsequent statement released on Monday, the Labor Department said, "The employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics are working hard to ensure the timely release of employment data on Friday, November 2. It is our intention that Friday will be business as usual regarding the October Employment Situation Report."
And, as reported by The Hill, there is no mystery surrounding a possible delay: it's a simple fact that BLS analysts cannot access the data as long as the federal government is shut down.
A key challenge facing BLS analysts is that the actual numbers, which are vital to financial markets as well as political campaigns, are kept under tight security, and must be dealt with onsite.
Normally, federal employees can handle much of their work remotely, but officials must be able to get into offices to process the employment data.
"This type of stuff we don't do from home," said Abbot. "They've got to be in one particular room that's basically roped off."
Contrary to the conspiracy theories surrounding a possible delay, there is nothing unprecedented about weather emergencies delaying the monthly jobs report. In January, 1996, The New York Times reported that "a paralyzing blizzard" caused the Labor Department to delay release of the monthly jobs report by a week.
Nor is the Labor Department alone in facing possible delays due to Hurricane Sandy. According to The Wall Street Journal, major companies have said the storm will force them to delay quarterly earnings reports.
The latest BLS conspiracy theories come less than a month after the bureau estimated that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest rate since Obama took office. Media conservatives immediately dismissed the positive economic news as part of a conspiracy to re-elect Obama.