The super secret ‘jobs number’ process

Updated
The jobless rate dropped to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since President Obama took office.
The jobless rate dropped to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since President Obama took office.
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Where do the “jobs” numbers come from and what’s this conspiracy about? Here is some background on how the whole process works. 

I loved this the first time The New York Times published it — a simple explanation about the super-secret process of reporting the nation’s Employment Situation Summary, a.k.a. the “Jobs Report” and the “Unemployment Rate” from the bureau of labor and statistics. The cloak and dagger method in detail is below. 

Read it and you will have something to say when your friends start quoting Jack Welch and Rep. Allen West who are among a host of conservatives that are starting conspiracy theories that the 7.8 percent jobs number for September is some politically-timed conspiracy meant to help President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Rep. Allen West tweeted:

In regards to today’s Jobs report — I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here… 

Well, who are the people tabulating the numbers? TPM asked.

Betsey Stevenson, a former chief economist at the Department of Labor under President Obama, said in a phone interview with TPM that the conspiracy theories were misguided in just about every way possible. For starters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics isn’t currently run by a political appointee. For most of Obama’s term, the commissioner was a holdover appointed by President Bush. The current acting commissioner John Gavin is a career BLS economist, not an Obama appointee.

And where do the actual numbers come from? I found this simplified version here.

•The unemployment rate is derived from telephone survey of households; respondents are asked about their employment situation and whether they are looking for a job. (Unemployed who are no longer looking aren’t counted in this number)

•The jobs report is derived from a larger survey of businesses owners who report their hiring activity for the month.

•That’s why the unemployment rate could decline, as it did in April, at the same time employers reported a net 3,100 job losses

Now for the fun stuff, If you want to know the secret process, continue reading.

From The New York Times:

Wednesday (the prior week), 12 p.m.

 Office suites in the Bureau of Labor Statistics go into lockdown. Custodial service is suspended.

Wednesday (the prior week), 12 p.m.

By the end of the week, the Census Bureau transfers household data to the B.L.S. Data experts spend the next few days turning lines of code into publication-quality tables.

Monday afternoon

An economist takes a first pass at the household data and drafts one half of the report.

Tuesday afternoon

A second economist analyzes business data and drafts the other half of the report.

Wednesday, 8:30 a.m.

The economists submit their drafts to a supervisor and a fact checker.

Thursday, 8:30 a.m.

The associate commissioner, division chiefs, branch chiefs and analysts sit around a table and “go through every single line,” says Abraham Mosisa, a bureau economist, “every single word, including commas.

Thursday, 11 a.m.

A committee of senior staff members does a final review.

Thursday afternoon

The report is sent to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Friday, 8 a.m.

A group of financial journalists is taken into a locked room in the Department of Labor. The writers hand over their cellphones and are given 30 minutes to review an advance copy.

Friday 8:28 a.m.

Television journalists are given a two-minute window to get in front of the cameras and prepare for broadcast.

Friday 8:30 a.m.

Precisely at 8:30, according to an atomic clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory, reporters broadcast the figures across the country at exactly the same time that the B.L.S. posts the report to its Web site.

 

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The super secret 'jobs number' process

Updated