Bolling Bases His New Jobs Conspiracy On Misunderstanding Of BLS Data

Fox News' Eric Bolling compared two completely different measures of employment to revive the right-wing myth that the Labor Department is distorting economic data to help re-elect President Obama.

Bolling sought to demonstrate that the unemployment rate has not fallen to 7.8 percent, as reported by the Labor Department this month, by arguing that the number of jobs created in September was not enough to keep up with the number of previously unemployed people that are no longer unemployed. He went on to suggest that the lower unemployment rate is evidence of a conspiracy and urged Congress to investigate.

Bolling BLS white board

Bolling's math doesn't add up: his numbers come from two different surveys that measure different aspects of labor market conditions, two surveys that are conducted in different ways, which often leads to large gaps between the two findings.

Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues the results of two surveys. One, known as the household survey, measures the number of people employed and looking for work. The results of the household survey are used to determine the unemployment rate. The other survey, known as the establishment survey, measures the total number of jobs gained or lost in a month through a survey of businesses. Because the surveys are conducted differently, the results often do not agree.

Bolling seized on the routine difference between the surveys' findings to claim that 342,000 jobs were missing and therefore cast doubt on the unemployment drop for September.

But that gap is not evidence of a conspiracy. An October 5 Wall Street Journal article explained the disparity: 

The answer lies in the way the two figures are calculated. The monthly payroll number--how many jobs are gained or added in a month--is based on a survey of about 141,000 businesses and government agencies. The unemployment rate and related statistics are based on an [sic] separate survey of about 60,000 individual households.

While Bolling attempts to advance the idea that 342,000 people “missing” from the unemployment numbers is an anomaly, a large discrepancy between the surveys is typical. Matthew Yglesias pointed out that difference between the two surveys fluctuates wildly and can grow to a gap of over a million jobs:

You'll see above a chart of the gap in terms of thousands of jobs. We're talking a gap that ranges in scale from hundreds of thousands of jobs to over a million jobs. It's a very large gap. And unfortunately for analysts, it's not a stable gap either. It looks a little bit like labor market booms--as in the mid-sixties or the late-nineties--cause the gap to close, but it's quite noisy on a month-to-month basis and seems to have other mysterious sources of variation.

Furthermore, research by the National Bureau of Economic research finds that the gap in employment numbers is a "cyclical phenomenon" that tends to increase when economic output is down.