The latest Bush trick to embellish economic data.

Commentary about business and finance.
Oct. 3 2003 5:27 PM

Antidisestablishmentarianism

The partisan duel over the latest Bush trick to embellish economic data.

(Continued from Page 1)

By relying on existing businesses, the Establishment Survey may miss potential growth, especially when a recovery is underway. But it doesn't only underestimate. There are ways in which the Establishment Survey can overcount.Say you work 20 hours at Starbucks and 30 hours at Wal-Mart in a week, you'll be counted as two payroll jobs when you're really only one employed person. There are about 7 million such multiple job holders in the United States. Plus, while it's slow to count new companies, the Establishment is also slow to register dying companies. "The payroll survey probably overstates the weakness in the job market. I just don't think it overstates it by any significant amount," says Mark Zandi, the straight-shooting chief economist of Economy.com.

And even with its flaws, the Establishment Survey is "measurably more accurate than the Household Survey," says Zandi. It's bigger and more comprehensive. BLS says it has become more adept at latching onto new companies, by, for example, checking state records more frequently.

The Household Survey has its share of fuzzy math, too. BLS economists make calculations based on sampling and the census' estimate of population, which is a constantly moving target. One of the reasons the household figures look so good is that a census revision caused it to add more than 500,000 working Americans in January.

Advertisement

It's important to remember that the monthly numbers BLS reports are preliminary and the bureau often revises the monthly data it has already reported. In his paper, John Kitchen suggested that in a period when the Household Survey is rising, we should expect the payroll surveys to be revised sharply upward—in other words, BLS should provide ex post facto acknowledgement that it misread the true health of the job market. But so far in this cycle, that has yet to happen—in fact, BLS is actually revising recent figures slightly downward—suggesting that the Household Survey increases aren't yet as significant as its advocates hope.

The Establishment Survey may not be the best means for predicting job growth in the future. But the Household Survey, it turns out, isn't necessarily a better means for predicting job growth in the past.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Republicans Like Scott Walker Are Building Campaigns Around Problems That Don’t Exist

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

The World

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies

They just aren’t ready to admit it yet.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

A No-Brainer Approach to Fighting Poverty: Better Birth Control

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 16 2014 11:56 AM Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 16 2014 1:23 PM Germany Has Asked Google to Reveal Its Search Algorithm, but That's Not Going to Happen
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 1:27 PM The Veronica Mars Spinoff Is Just Amusing Enough to Keep Me Watching
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 12:33 PM Slate Exclusive: Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 16 2014 7:30 AM A Galaxy of Tatooines
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.