Thursday, May 27, 2010

Has the Obama Administration Turned Government Statistics into Soviet-Style Propaganda?

Right Wing News (h/t Larwyn's Links) discusses a New York Post article that claims that the Census Bureau has engaged in considerable fudging of its employment roll.  The Bureau hires people and then fires them after only a few hours work, then hires a replacement, then fires the replacement after a few hours, etc.  The churning of employment has, according to the article, potentially bloated the US Department of Labor's employment data. Thus, the Obama administration may have significantly distorted the non-seasonally adjusted 9.9% unemployment reported last month. John Crudele of the Post writes:

"Each month Census gives Labor a figure on the number of workers it has hired. That figure goes into the closely followed monthly employment report Labor provides. For the past two months the hiring by Census has made up a good portion of the new jobs...Labor doesn't check the Census hiring figure or whether the jobs are actually new or recycled. It considers a new job to have been created if someone is hired to work at least one hour a month...One hour! A month! So, if a worker is terminated after only one hour and another is hired in her place, then a second new job can apparently be reported to Labor . (I've been unable to get Census to explain this to me.)

I used to think that government statistics are accurate, even sacrosanct.  There have been increasing numbers of questions about inflation data.  For instance, the exclusion of house costs reduced the stated inflation rate from the early 1980s until the housing price collapse, when some pundits started to suggest that house prices should be included in the inflation rate.  It is not clear how quality adjustments are integrated into the inflation rate.  Nor is it clear how the size of a given product influences it.  For example, for the past 10 years or so I haven't bothered with a big charcoal grill, just purchasing a small hibachi from Wal-Mart.  Until recently they were about $20, but this year it was $25.  But the quality had been significantly reduced. It is much less steady and the materials used are cheaper.  Were those changes included in the inflation rate?

Increasingly government data seems like propaganda.  The Census Bureau's manipulation of the unemployment rate suggests that the Obama administration does not shy from the use of official information for propagandistic purposes.


Shelly Lowe said...

The article in incorrect. The Census Bureau does not hire, then fire, and then rehire anyone. Any employee who is fired is fired for cause. We train and hire temporary workers for various operations, most significantly Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) to complete work assignments. When the work is complete, the temporary worker goes into an inactive status. They may be re-activated if there is more work to do, or for another subsequent operation. At no time do we count a re-activation from non-working status as a “rehire.”
The Census Bureau reports to the Department of Labor and on our public website the number of people paid for work during a given week. We do not report the number of jobs. The Census Bureau reports the total number of unduplicated temporary 2010 Census workers that earned any pay during a specific weekly pay period. Temporary workers earning any pay during the week are counted only once. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) measures changes in employment levels — not the actual level itself — and looks only at the week that includes the 12th day of the month. It is simply not possible for Census to engage in the manipulation of data to artificially inflate the employment report of the BLS in the manner alleged by this news column. Here is information from the Economics Statistics Administration:

Doug Plumb said...

I think what Mitchell has said pretty much represents the very tip of a massive iceberg. Consider CAFR and the PPT and this is small potatoes.

We could change things by refusing to buy thinks made in China whenever possible, we are being Walmarted and soon the goods with the quality of a Walmart item will cost the same as good old fashioned American quality once did when American manufacturers were in business.

I once spent a day walking around downtown Toronto to find a new pair of shoes made on this continent. New Balance still makes some shoe models over here. Devy Kidd has compiled a list of American manufacturers on her site.

I am a Canadian manufacturer of software - a "micro" business.

Anonymous said...

Those who belong to the standard faiths claim that the say-so of their faith rests on revelation, and that publication is acknowledged in the pages of books and accounts of miracles and wonders whose nature is supernatural. But those of us who force great discarded the credence in the miraculous still are in the self-possession of revelations which are the base of faith. We too have our revealed religion. We accept looked upon the lineaments of men and women that can be to us the symbols of that which is holy. We have heard words of divine understanding and reality vocal in the gentle voice. In of the domain there have hit to us these experience which, when accepted, despair to us revelations, not of supernatural belief, but of a natural and sure credence in the holy powers that animate and live in the center of [a yourselves's] being.