The unemployment mirage

In response to Source: Census Bureau Fabricating Employment Data in Jobs Report:

A word of modest caution, if I may: I’ve been fascinated by the business of computing unemployment reports since the first time I heard of the alternative metrics, and began wondering just where that headline number comes from.  I’ve always been resistant to charges of massive, deliberate falsification.  I’m not saying it can’t be true, and I don’t doubt for a minute that the people behind the IRS abuse scandal would cheerfully falsify unemployment reports, if that’s what it took to keep Barack Obama in power.  They would feel entirely justified by the moral urgency of that second Obama term, confident that history would eventually forgive their deceptions.

But I spent a good bit of time digging into that New York Post report, and I’m not entirely sold.  I’m not calling shenanigans or disregarding reporter John Crudele’s work.  He says he’s got sources and documents, and he’s willing to share them with investigators.  But nothing in this article as currently written truly backs up the headline-grabbing allegation that Census workers and/or officials deliberately cooked the household survey to get Obama re-elected.  

The quotes from his inside source describe an environment in which Census workers were pressured to manufacture whatever data it took to reach a 90 percent response rate.  This practice was said to be fairly widespread (not just the one named offender, whose existence the Administration has kept very quiet until now.)  That’s scandalous, to be sure, and it’s mighty curious that no one seems to have investigated it more thoroughly until now.  And phony data certainly would have shifted the unemployment numbers in a direction favorable to Obama.  But I haven’t yet seen anything of a “smoking gun” nature that says this was an Obama political operation.  I’m not ruling it out, and Crudele sure does seem convinced, but I hope he’d understand my desire to see some hard evidence to back up such a bombshell allegation.

If the story holds up, and it does turn out to have been a political black bag operation – as critics such as former GE chief Jack Welch have long alleged, particularly with regard to the almost incomprehensible September 2012 numbers – I don’t know how to judge the fallout.  I’m sure there will be cutouts standing by to keep the worst of the scandal fallout from reaching the Oval Office.  The public has shown a remarkably high tolerance for Obama scandals so far, even though he’s had several of them far worse than anything Richard Nixon ever contemplated.  Would knowledge that the unemployment reports were cooked, as part of Obama’s win-at-all-costs re-election campaign, push them over the edge, especially given that Obama’s personal and performance numbers are currently in the basement?  Or would this be blown off as esoterica, with a hearty Hillary Clinton-style shriek of “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

There’s no getting around the fact that even with the cooked numbers, Obama’s economy should have sunk him deeper than the Titanic.  A crucial mass of voters was incredibly willing to separate him from the results of his policies.  Expectations have been lowered so much that permanent double-digit unemployment is now meekly accepted as the best America can do.  Romney’s knack for “inartful phrasing,” as he put it, left him in a bad position for the apparently all-important soft-and-cuddly personal approval ratings.  No matter how this story shakes out, it’s a melancholy sign of a diminished nation to think that Team Obama might have falsified data to get unemployment just a hair under 8 percent… and that was good enough.