- John Williams on Lies, Damned Lies and the 7.8% Unemployment Rate!
by JT Long of The Gold Report, http://www.streetwisereports.com/
Shadowstats.com Author John Williams wonders if politics are at play behind the latest jobs report, which shows 114,000 new U.S. jobs since September and a 0.3% drop in unemployment since August. Investors need to know how seasonal factors and month-to-month volatility affect the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ reports. In this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, Williams explains why he doubts that we are in a recovery. The take-away? Look at the unadjusted figures before you sell your gold.
The Gold Report: John, as Mark Twain famously quipped, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just came out with new jobs numbers that show the country added 114,000 jobs since September and the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8%, down from 8.1% in August. On Shadowstats.com, you argue that the numbers are wrong and pointed to politics as a possible reason for the incorrect figures. Are unemployment statistics being manipulated and if so how?
John Williams: I normally put out a commentary on the numbers, and, in this one, I raised the possibility of politics as a factor. The problem is very serious misreporting of the numbers and the result is what appears to be a bogus unemployment rate. The BLS reported a drop in the unemployment rate from 8.1% to 7.8%, three-tenths of a percentage point, which runs counter to what is being experienced in the marketplace.
What few people realize is that the headline unemployment rate is calculated each month using a unique set of seasonal adjustments. The August unemployment rate, which was 8.1%, was calculated using what BLS calls a “concurrent seasonal factor adjustment.” Each month the agency recalculates the series to adjust for regular seasonal patterns tied to the school year or holiday shopping season or whatever is considered relevant. The next month, it does the same thing using another set of seasonal factors. Rather than publish a number that’s consistent with the prior month’s estimate, it recalculates everything, including the previous month, but it doesn’t publish the revised number from the previous month.
The assumption is that the monthly recalculations don’t make much difference over time, but they do. The depth and the protraction of the current severe economic downturn have thrown off the annual seasonal-factor adjustments. The result is very volatile seasonal factors month-to-month. That means the new calculations for the September number may have resulted in a very significant revision to the August number. Again, though, the BLS doesn’t publish that, so the headline August-to-September 2012 change in the unemployment rate is not consistent and not comparable. Last December, when the BLS put the seasonal adjustments on a consistent basis for the year, as it does once per year, the November 2011 unemployment rate had just been reported as showing four-tenths of a percentage point drop—an unusually large monthly decline that never took place. When revised to a consistent basis, the drop in headline November unemployment revised to two-tenths of a percent. That is a big change. I think something like that happened here.
The BLS knows what the actual number is. It has an actual estimate for August, which is consistent with September, but it doesn’t publish it because it says it “doesn’t want to confuse data users.” But it is putting out numbers that have no meaning month-to-month. One month before the election and a month after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced Quantitative Easing (QE) 3, is not a time to have inaccurate numbers. The BLS should publish the consistent numbers now.