Budget Wonks: The Books Were Not Cooked

Katy O'Donnell
National Journal

The books weren't cooked, according to two budget wonks who sifted through Friday’s surprising jobs report on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, answering conspiracy theories about a report that may have helped President Obama’s case.

The report found job growth consistent with consensus estimates of about 115,000 but showed the unemployment rate falling by 0.3 percentage points, bucking the same projections that correctly predicted the jobs numbers.

The latest employment report from the Labor Department found 114,000 jobs were added in September and revised the August and July numbers up. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since Obama took office.

The falling rate led to conspiracy theories on the right that the Obama administration was somehow cooking the books. However, both Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, and Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, agreed that the numbers were not manipulated.

“The numbers were collected in a professional way,” said Holtz-Eakin, who advised Sen. John McCain in his 2008 campaign for president. “It’s a statistical anomaly, not a conspiracy.”

Zandi called the theories “silly,” pointing out that career professionals, not politicians, assemble the statistics. 

President Obama hailed the numbers as proof that his administration has put the economy on the right track. Not so, GOP candidate Mitt Romney said Friday, arguing that a shrinking labor force is responsible for the surprising fall in unemployment.

Romney claimed that if the work force were the same size as in January of 2009, the rate would be about 10.7 percent. Zandi said the figure is actually closer to 9 percent but agreed that it would be higher if more people were actively looking for work.

See all NJ’s Sunday show coverage | Get Sunday show coverage in your inbox