Mark Twain said it best: There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.
Politicians lie. The government lies. The media lies. Everyone with half a brain knows that. But when a department as important as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lies and does it for political gain, it needs to be exposed.
Kai Ryssdai, senior editor at Marketplace, says what the BLS includes and does not include paints a more favorable picture of the economy and boosts a politician’s popularity.
Politicians might try to manipulate the message around economic data, but could they manipulate the data itself? Or revise or distort it? Let’s take a look.
Here’s how former presidents tried to cook the BLS books, according to Economic historian Thomas Stapleford:
During the 1932 Presidential election, Herbert Hoover was accused of undercounting unemployment to make the economy look better. He excluded workers who had been laid off and new workers who were looking for jobs, so he ended up with an unemployment rate that was much lower than what a lot of people thought was happening in the early years of the Great Depression.
President Franklin Roosevelt was accused of using an outdated method for measuring inflation, which underestimated increases in the cost of living and allowed the government to keep wages lower during World War II.
In 1971, Richard Nixon tried to secretly manipulate the Bureau of Labor Statistics and “go directly after the data.” Nixon wanted to change the BLS management because they weren’t putting out numbers that he liked.
Although security safeguards were put in place after the Nixon years, the BLS has become very political today and safeguards are ignored for the most part – especially by the current administration.
The BLS still claims non-partisanship but they are just more crafty. Revising numbers downward or upward a few days after the monthly report is released is their latest sleight of hand. Now they are outright lying by overstating jobs. Here is the latest example, according to Fox News:
On January 6, 2024, the BLS was caught overstating 2023 U.S. employment reports by 439,000 jobs. While they quietly erased the jobs through November 2023, there is considerable evidence that the economy didn’t employ any additional people.
David Rosenberg, founder of Rosenberg Research Associates, calculates that the downward revisions came to “an epic 443,000,” adding, “more than 40% of payroll growth in 2023″ came from “the fairy tale ‘Birth-Death’ model” the BLS uses to “guesstimate” its jobs reports.
This isn’t new. In August 2023, the BLS issued a preliminary revision for the 12 months through March 2023 showing U.S. job growth was overstated by 306,000 jobs. Private sector job creation was adjusted lower by 358,000, while government payrolls were revised by an increase of 52,000.
EJ Antoni, Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, sums it up nicely: Whether it’s data being revised from good to bad, the manipulation of statistics or indefensible exaggerations, the White House’s economic record is worse than it appears.
These stats affect world markets and the financial industry. They determine inflation, interest and mortgage rates and set the table for the entire U.S. economy. For the BLS to be able to manipulate, readjust or revise these statistics should be a crime.
If Mark Twain was around today, he would probably say ‘change the name of the BLS to BS.’