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Economist debunks Fox News jobs conspiracy theory

The U.S. unemployment rate is below 8% for the first time since early 2009.

The U.S. unemployment rate is below 8% for the first time since early 2009. But rather than celebrate Friday's strong jobs report, many conservatives are portraying the news as an Obama administration conspiracy. It's been such a thing on the internet today that adherents to the theory already have a name: "jobbers."

One of the more detailed versions of the case, if you can call it that, was laid out by Fox News' Stuart Varney. Here's Varney's argument:

"There is widespread mistrust of this report and these numbers because there are clear contradictions - 873,000 people said they had found work but only 114,000 new jobs were created. That is a contradiction. If you delve a little deeper and it seems that a lot of these people who found work - that is the 873,000 - if you delve deeply, it turns out that 600,000 of these 873,000 people were part time workers. So they came back into the labor force and they pushed the unemployment rate down to 7.8%. But there is a contradiction here between the number of new jobs created and the number of people saying they found work. It was part-time work Bill, that’s what it was."

He added:

Oh how convenient the rate dropped below 8% for the first time in 43 months, five weeks before the election.

So, is there any truth to Varney's theory?

Um, no. Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, called the argument "outrageous."

The jobs report is based on two separate surveys: the household survey, which asks people whether they're working, and the payroll survey, which ask employers about their hiring. Shierholz explained that it's not at all unusual that the two surveys differ.

"That happens all of the time," Shierholz said. And even leaving that aside, the 873,000 figure refers to the raw number of people who found work, not including those who lost work. The 114,000 number is the net total—that is, gains minus losses—for the month.

Shierholz said Americans ought to be pleased about the news. "Dropping below 8% is a bright spot," she said. "People would say this would help the incumbent, but honestly, I don't think it matters." 

Shierholz isn't the only expert to debunk the conspiracy theory. See other efforts here, here, and here.