Photo: AP / Louis Lanzano
After countless attempts to discredit or defend Friday’s jobs report, we can all agree on one thing: The data is complicated. So complicated that the BLS could make the economy look better than it was and no one would be sure.Former Reagan budget director David Stockman said as much in an email to Bruce Krasting, in response to Krasting’s criticism of the jobs report.
Stockman writes: “If you spend a little time with these numbers you will know that they are being made up.”
Here’s the email (via Wall Street Examiner):
Bruce– Great job on the Summers catch, but I’m wondering if this goes much deeper. I don’t particularly believe in tin foil hats, but all of these mainstream economists treat the BLS and BEA data like it’s holy writ—when it’s evident that the reports are so massaged, estimated, deemed, revised, re-bench marked and seasonally adjusted that any month-to-month change has a decent chance of being noise. What deep secret might they be hiding?
So on the labour force participation rate they say, “No it didn’t go down in January because the 2012 numbers are re-bench marked for the 2010 census,” but for some reason the BLS didn’t bother to update the 2011 civilian population numbers, including December. Thus, the BLS published apples-to-oranges numbers on this particular variable and the footnote says the December participation rate would have been the same as January, if they had revised it!
Yet on another variable— the establishment survey jobs count—they were also busy re-benchmarking–but here they did update the originally reported numbers for every month of 2011. Even then, it is hard to say what got updated because the originally reported numbers each month are then revised during the next two reporting months—with any excess or shortfall reallocated to earlier months outside the three month window, which are not published on a revised basis, even though they have been revised! This reflects a wacko thing called the concurrent seasonal adjustment method.
Anyway, like Summers did in his TV riff, you can always pick and choose a half dozen noise points in every monthly report to support your favoured trend. But obviously, your point is that the longer-term trend of the labour force participation rate is really bad, and this truth is absolutely validated by the January report. Except it would have been equally bad in December had it been reported with the new census data. As Gartman says, the trend is from the “upper left to the lower right”, and it’s heading off the page.
But the mainstream narrative never gets to the trend. In this case, the plain fact is that we are warehousing a larger and larger population of adults who are one way or another living off transfer payments, relatives, sub-prime credit, and the black market. My suspicion is that this negative trend and many others like it get buried by the monthly change chatter from mainstream economists and on bubble vision, and that these monthly deltas are so heavily manipulated as to be almost a made-up reality. Call it the economists’ Truman Show.
The attached series for the “raw” or unadjusted establishment survey employment change for January goes back to the 1980s and makes me wonder. Since 2000, the January job loss against a December payroll of between 130 and 135 million has varied within a tiny range of about 150,000. Other than January 2009 when the economy was being smacked by the post-Lehman melt-down in the financial markets, this means that the unadjusted January payroll count declined within a super-tight range of 2.00% to 2.20% of the December payroll.
Really? Granted the U.S. economy is a regular fellow, but how could there be such astounding uniformity every January, year after year in the raw numbers, as in the following sequence for January 2001 thru January 2012, respectively: 2.16%, 2.19%, 2.05%, 2.03%, 2,03%, 1.96%, 2.03% 2.19%, 2.73% (2009 outlier), 2.20%, 2.18% and 2.02%.
After all, you have weather aberrations, huge fluctuations in year to year economic conditions, the weak, random nature of the establishment survey, the constant fiddling with the birth-death adjustment which is carried in the raw numbers, the Christmas shopping season variation from red hot-to-punk across the years, the timing of the survey week and much more. And the dice always lands on almost exactly a 2.03% change from December. Right.
This is meant to be a long-winded encouragement to you to apply your patented numbers forensic skills to the monthly BLS reports or any of the other market movers. In the last 7 years, for example, the Christmas shopping season has been all over the lot and presumably, retail hiring, too. But the unadjusted retail jobs reduction in January vs. December has not varied by much more than 150,000 from a base count of 15 million. That’s a 1% variation, notwithstanding the huge shopping season differences they report on bubble vision.
In short, if you spend a little time with these numbers you will know that they are being made up. Funny thing that I remember during the depths of the 1982 recession Reagan read in Human Events one night that the seasonally adjusted numbers were being manipulated and one should look at the unadjusted numbers, instead. The next morning during an economic update briefing Reagan said, he wanted to talk about the “unadjusted” unemployment rate. Marty Feldstein turned white as a ghost, and then talked him out of it. Hmmm!
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