Tag Archives: employment

Trump Jr.’s Pants-on-Fire Allegation of Manipulated Jobs Numbers

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When asked July 24 about US unemployment numbers, which have fallen steadily since 2010, Donald Trump Jr., replied “These are artificial numbers. These are numbers that are massaged to make the existing economy look good, to make this administration look good when, in fact, it’s a total disaster.”  His father has made similar statements.

PolitiFact asked a variety of experts about the quote.   Their bottom line:  the quote from the younger Trump was a “Pants on Fire” lie.  The truth is that presidents don’t and can’t manipulate the jobs numbers.  No White House has even tried — at least not since Richard Nixon made a heavy-handed attempt in 1971 to interfere with BLS staffing.  After that, extra firewalls were put in place.

Here is my own full response to PolitiFact’s question regarding the Trump claim:

The statement is 100% false. The employment numbers come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the Labor Department).  In this administration, like every administration, those who produce the employment statistics are long-time nonpolitical professionals. The Secretary of Labor does not even know what the numbers are going to be when they are announced every month (the morning of the first Friday of the month).

Allegations that the official government numbers understate unemployment are sometimes based on a claim that some higher measure (which, for example, includes discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job, or part-time workers), should be used in place of the ones that get the most attention in the press.  But these other measures are also made publicly available by the BLS and the press is free to write about them as much as they want.

The important thing, of course, is to be consistent across time in which measure you use.  It wouldn’t be right to switch from looking at the conventional rate to a measure that includes discouraged workers just because you don’t like the incumbent president and want to make things look bad for him.

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The Middle Class Crunch: Bipartisan Program for New Members of Congress

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       On December 3-5, 2014, the Institute of Politics at Harvard University held its biannual Bipartisan Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress.  Most of the congress-people come.   This year I was on a panel on the domestic US economy, titled the “Middle Class Crunch.”    In Part I, presented here, I briefly reviewed recent economic statistics.   Part II, laying out 8 recommended policies, will follow.

       The standard economic statistics indicate that the US economy has been doing well lately, not just relative to the severe 2007-09 recession, but relative also to what most Americans think and relative to how other advanced countries are doing.  This applies to (1) GDP, (2) jobs, (3) the stock market, and (4) the budget.

      (1)  GDP growth has averaged an impressive 4.2% over the last 2 quarters.   It has averaged a more moderate 2.4% over the last 4 quarters, but even that is still above the disappointing 2.1% in 2011-13.  See  Figure 1.

Figure 1. Growth has been gradual since the recession’s end in June 2009, but faster lately

Picture1_billionsofchaintype2009dollar

Source: Macroeconomic Advisers, Nov. 18, 2014; monthly numbers derived from US Bureau of Economic Analysis quarterly series. E

        (2) Employment growth has shown  an unprecedented string of positive numbers. The private sector has added 10.6 million jobs over 56 straight months of job growth, easily the longest streak on record. and has added at least 200,000/mo. for nine consecutive months. See Figure 2.

Figure 2.  Change in private sector employment.

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     (3) The stock market is setting record highs.

(4) The budget deficit has experienced a record improvement since 2009: a decline of more than 2/3.  (See Figure 3.)   It is now  2.8% of GDP, which is below the average deficit since 1980 (3.2%).

Figure 3. The 2014 federal budget deficit is down to 2.8% of GDP.

Picture3_2014federalbudgetdeficit

      If the economy is doing so well, then why don’t Americans see it that way?   The “middle class” doesn’t feel better off because the gains have accrued to people at the top. Median family income  is still 8 per cent below its pre-recession level and even further below its 2000 peak.  It has barely risen above its 1990 level.  See Figure 4.

Figure 4. Real median household income is barely above its 1990 level.

Picture4_whydoamericansfeelworse

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Recent Jobs & Growth Numbers: Good or Bad?

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This morning’s US employment report shows that July was the 34th consecutive month of job increases.   Earlier in the week, the Commerce Department report showed that the 2nd quarter was the 16th consecutive quarter of positive GDP growth.   Of course, the growth rates in employment and income have not been anywhere near as strong as we would like, nor as strong as they could be if we had a more intelligent fiscal policy in Washington.  But the US economy is doing much better than what most other industrialized countries have been experiencing.   Many European countries haven’t even recovered from the Great Recession, with GDPs currently still below their peaks of six years ago.

US job growth has averaged 186 thousand per month over the last two years, or 167 thousand per month over the last three years.  Most people are aware of the improvement relative to the horrendous job loss during the 2008-09 recession.   But they are probably not aware of how the recent recovery record looks compared to the previous business cycle, the six years of recovery between the end of the 2001 recession and the economic peak at the end of 2007.  Job growth during those six years averaged 100 thousand per month, substantially lower than now.  The difference is even greater if one looks at private sector jobs numbers, because government employment expanded substantially under the Bush Administration whereas it has been contracting in recent years.

GDP growth has fallen well below 2% in the last three quarters.   But I think we know the reason for that:  dysfunctional fiscal policy.  Washington has been the obstacle to a normal robust recovery, through a combination of such factors as spending cuts since 2011, the expiration of the payroll tax holiday in January 2013, the sequester in March, and now business uncertainty arising from new time-bombs in the next two months, once again the needless result of partisan deadlock over passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling.  Given all that, it is surprising that private consumption and investment have held up as well as they have.

The right policy bargain, of course, is fiscal stimulus in the short term, not fiscal contraction, combined with steps today to address the entitlements problem in the long-term.   That would get us back to solid growth.  Our current pattern of pro-cyclical fiscal policy is exactly backwards.

[Comments can be posted at the Project Syndicate site or at Economist’s View.  I have been appearing on Fox Business, where Stuart Varney again today asked why we aren’t achieving high growth.  He also worries about the recent increase in part-week employment, apparently not realizing that this is an effect of the government sequester.]

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