Limbaugh, Novak heralded "rosier" -- and less reliable -- jobs numbers

››› ››› JEREMY CLUCHEY & AVI ZOLLMAN

After the Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) Employment Situation Summary establishment survey reported on August 6 that 32,000 jobs were created in July -- a disappointing number in light of projections that generally hovered around 225,000 -- radio host Rush Limbaugh and syndicated columnist Robert Novak both argued for using the results of the BLS household survey instead, which were seemingly more favorable for the Bush administration, despite the fact that the household survey is widely considered to be less reliable than the establishment survey.

In his August 12 column, Novak pushed what he called "[a] rosier Labor Department measure ... the household survey of job increases," writing that according to the economists he "consulted, the 32,000-job figure reflects less the real state of the economy than the faults of the [bureau's] methodology ... undercounting job creation"; on the The Rush Limbaugh Show, on the day that the jobs data were released, Limbaugh claimed that "the true number, the real number of jobs created was 600,000." According to the household survey, "total employment rose by 629,000 to 137.9 million in July."

Novak and Limbaugh argued for using the household numbers, even though the BLS's establishment survey, which measures "total nonfarm employment" each month, is considered "the best indicator of current job trends," Kathleen P. Utgoff, commissioner of the BLS, said in a March 6 New York Times article. In February, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan said that "Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow," as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted on August 10.

According to a BLS explanatory note, the establishment survey collects information from the payroll records of approximately "160,000 businesses and government agencies covering approximately 400,000 individual worksites;" in contrast, as the Chicago Tribune reported on August 7, the household survey queries only about 60,000 households. Consequently, the Tribune reported, "the household figure is considered less reliable."

But that didn't stop Limbaugh from claiming that the household number represented "the true number" or Novak from suggesting it was proof of a "revived" economy. In reality, as the International Herald-Tribune reported on August 7, even if the household survey was taken to be an equally credible source of information about job creation, the Bush administration's record in this area would not be much improved:

Over all, the household survey now shows that employment has risen by 1.9 million jobs, or 1.4 percent, since President George W. Bush took office, while the establishment survey shows employment is down by 1.1 million jobs, or 0.8 percent

Going back to Harry Truman, that is the poorest job creation record of any president to this point in a presidential term, by either measure. The second worst was turned in by Bush's father, who did not win a second term in 1992.

Posted In
Economy, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment
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