Unemployment Rate Trutherism, and Why It Exists

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 5 2012 10:05 AM

Unemployment Rate Trutherism, and Why It Exists

121005_Laura_Ingraham
Laura Ingraham is skeptical

Wikimedia Commons.

I don't know how Buzzfeed does it, but after the new jobs report came out, showing unemployment ticking down to 7.8 percent, the site quickly collected tweets from Obama critics who don't believe the numbers. There's the usual parade of kookery, echoed by Fox News's Stuart Varney, who claims that there's "widespread distrust of this report." ("Widespread" is almost as good as "some people are saying," as far as weasel terms go.) The only talker who surprises is Jack Welch.

Unbelievable jobs numbers... these Chicago guys will do anything... can't debate so change numbers

Let's hope that's a joke, because the idea of an administration doing black magic to Labor statistics in the 24 hours before a report comes out is up there with assuming WTC Building 7 was brought down with controlled demolitions. The Romney campaign, naturally, is smarter and more slippery. In a statement, the candidate says two real things.

- "We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July." That's an innovative way of talking down the upward revisions in those monthly numbers.

- "If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11%." That's said out of necessity, because for a year, Romney's been telling voters this: Obama promised that stimulus would keep unemployment under 8 percent, and "it hasn't been under 8 percent since."

The Obama campaign's always been trying to win 270 electoral votes with an inside straight -- big Hispanic votes in the Southwest, and gains in swing states where unemployment's falling. As high as unemployment is in California, for example, Obama's going to lock the state down. The sub-8 percent national number forces Romney to change up his stump speech a litte, and hope (not that anyone would say this!) that the final October number ticks back up. But almost half of all voters will have cast ballots by the time that report comes out.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.