It's 32 days before Election Day, and an embattled president receives news that could only bring him joy. For the first time since Barack Obama's first month in office, the national unemployment rate has dropped below 8 percent, to a September tally of 7.8 percent. "Well, isn't that convenient?" howled many in the blogosphere, with a charge that the jobs report had been "cooked."
The chorus of jobs-report skeptics was led by no less an American luminary than Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, who tweeted, "these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers."
Given the rush to question the legitimacy of the jobs report, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis felt it necessary to respond to the critics, and appeared on CNBC to say, "I'm insulted when I hear that, because we have a very professional civil service ... have the highest regard for our professionals that do the calculations at the [Bureau of Labor Statistics]. They are trained economists."
AOL Jobs spoke today to one of those economists at the BLS, John Mullins, about the process behind putting together the reports.
Q. How are jobs reports compiled?
A. The data is drawn is from the current population survey and the current employment statistical survey. The first is a survey of households. The second, which I work on, is of business establishments, agencies. And data from both appears in the employment situation report each month, which is where we see the unemployment rate.
Q. What do you ask them?
A. For the current employment survey, we get information on payroll, employment size, hours on the job and total earnings. So it's a sample of stats from businesses that pay unemployment insurance. We ask a subset of that universe to participate.
Q.How is the data delivered?
A. The businesses submit the data in a variety of methods, either electronically or over the phone.
Q. So there is human involvement?
A. Yes. And then the data is assessed by a computer program that identifies peculiarities, which we review for accuracy.
Q. Is there any chance for the data to be doctored?
A. No. And we are not political appointees. In my program, there are 15 economists. I have been here for 15 years, some of my colleagues have been here for longer. We don't really talk politics at work, at least not any more than in any other workplace. I would say I wouldn't even really know which way my colleagues lean politically.
Q. Are there any measures taken to make sure the numbers aren't doctored?
A. The data are reviewed by supervisory staff to make sure the analysis is based on sound statistical data. Any one person doesn't have influence great enough to change the numbers significantly. And over the course of the year, it's cross-checked with state unemployment data, which would reveal any inaccuracies. Our methodology is known to prominent statistical organizations and it is transparent and consistent with standard statistical practices.
The process is open and transparent, and all the information is on our website. Anyone who understands the process and statistics knows how preposterous the charge of doctoring is. And I will add that we're all professionals, and we take pride in this not being political.