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Steep drop in unemployment rate spawns conspiracy
WASHINGTON—Conspiracy theorists came out in force after the government reported a sudden drop in the US unemployment rate one month before Election Day. Their message: The Obama administration would do anything to ensure a November victory, including manipulating unemployment data.
The conspiracy was widely rejected. Officials at the Labour Department said the jobs figures are calculated by highly-trained government employees without any political interference. Democrats and even some Republicans said they also found the charges implausible.
Yet that didn’t stop the chatter. The allegations were a measure of how politicised the monthly unemployment report has become near the end of a campaign that has focused on the economy and jobs. The conspiracy erupted after former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, a Republican, tweeted his scepticism five minutes after the Labour Department announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8 per cent in September from 8.1 per cent the month before.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers...these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers,” Welch tweeted, referring to the site of Obama campaign headquarters. The drop in unemployment was announced two days after Obama’s lacklustre performance in his first debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Republican Rep Allen West of Florida soon announced via Facebook that he agreed with Welch. “Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below eight per cent unemployment, a month from the presidential election,” West wrote. “This is Orwellian to say the least.”
The Obama administration wasn’t given much time to gloat about the strong economic improvement. Instead, it had to defend statisticians and economists against accusations made without any supporting evidence. “No serious person...would make claims like that,” said Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The jobs report is prepared under tight security each month by a relatively obscure government agency—the Bureau of Labor Statistics—without any oversight or input from the White House. It is based on data collected by an army of census workers, who interview Americans in 60,000 households by telephone or door-to-door.
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