A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty

On job numbers, White House spins in wildly unnecessary ways

Updated

If you stop by the White House’s homepage right now, you’ll see a headline at the top of the site that reads, “The Strongest Average Monthly Job Growth in More Than Two Decades.” It leads to a piece that makes the case that job growth in January and February – and only January and February – has the U.S. on track for the best year since the mid-1990s.

This is not a good argument. Sure, job growth in the first two months of the year was great – combined, we saw growth of 552,000 jobs – but no one seriously tries to extrapolate annual results from just two months.

Except Donald Trump and his team, that is.

I’m not unsympathetic to the White House’s eagerness to brag about encouraging economic news. What Team Trump shouldn’t do, however, is try to spin good data in misleading ways.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for example, told reporters last week, “Jobs are coming in at record numbers.” No, actually, they’re not. Job growth in Trump’s first year, for example, was slower than any year of Barack Obama’s second term. We topped 300,000 jobs in February, which is fantastic, but we crossed that same threshold nine times during Obama’s presidency. No records are being broken.

As for the 552,000 jobs created in the first two months of 2018, that’s excellent news, but it’s easy to find even better back-to-back monthly totals in recent years. In June and July of 2016, for example, when Trump first launched his campaign. the U.S. economy created 610,000 jobs in just those two months – though it didn’t stop Trump from telling Americans the economy was terrible.

Indeed, while the truth should be good enough, the Republican president is himself describing the latest job numbers in ways that are plainly and demonstrably dishonest.

At his campaign rally in Pittsburgh over the weekend, for example, Trump boasted, ‘We have created three million jobs since Election Day. Nobody thought that was possible.” To arrive at this figure, he counted jobs created under Obama’s presidency. The only thing nobody thought possible was Trump taking credit for things that happened before he even took office.

He then said the most recent jobs report “was among the best … ever produced in the history of our country.” That’s not even close to reflecting reality.

This, however, was my personal favorite:

“[M]y guys came into my office and they gave me the number. Because if you add the previous month, which was adjusted upward by 52,000 jobs, they were low last month, it adjusted upwards. So we are like over 360,000 jobs. And I said, let me ask you. Is that a mistake? I don’t think I have seen that. If you get 160 it’s good. We were at 360.”

No, we weren’t at 360,000. Trump is referring to Bureau of Labor Statistics revisions, which are included in every monthly report, and which last week pointed to 54,000 previously unreported jobs from December 2017 and January 2018. The president then decided to claim the economy created 360,000 jobs in February because he borrowed job numbers from months preceding February.

My point isn’t that there’s something wrong with the job market. The opposite is true: the recent data looks excellent. Rather, what matters here is that the latest job numbers are good enough that Trump and his team shouldn’t try to deceive the public about them.

Reality, in this case, doesn’t need to be spun, massaged, or repackaged in misleading ways. The truth works fine. When it comes to jobs, the White House should go with it.

On job numbers, White House spins in wildly unnecessary ways

Updated