Lies, damn lies and statistics

Question: In Thursday’s paper your headline story "Bush leery of jobs forecast" had the following paragraph in it that really frightens me. "Jobs are a sensitive political issue for Bush as he fights to keep his own job in a second term. The economy has lost 2.2 million payroll jobs since Bush took office, the worst job-creation record of any president since Herbert Hoover." Where did you get these numbers?

I went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civilian Labor Force Level, for 16 year olds and older. According to the Bureau’s data in January of 2001 there were 141,583,000 jobs when President Bush took office, in January of 2002 there were 143,734,000, in January of 2003 there were 144,863,000 and in January of 2004 there were 146,510,000. I am no mathematical genius but it looks like President Bush has added 4,241,000 payroll jobs during his first term so far. Again, where do you get your numbers?

I know the Democrats hate the president and the media tends to lean with them on almost every issue but this is way out of line. -- Wayne Lythgoe, Colbert

Answer: Our story on the U.S. jobs forecast came to us via the Associated Press, which supplies hundreds of newspapers across the country with daily news from around the globe. I don't know where AP reporter Terence Hunt obtained his numbers, but I presume the numbers are accurate. Hunt is a veteran reporter who has been covering the economy and the White House for years. To my knowledge, the White House has not challenged the AP story publicly and AP has not issued a correction. The numbers you cited for January 2003 and January 2004 would indicate an increase of approximately 1.6 million jobs, yet the Bush administration noted this week that 366,000 jobs have been created since August. The numbers the White House cited this week would suggest slower growth rates than your numbers indicate. My real point here is that there are a number of sources for jobless statistics and a number of ways to interpret them. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

Update: Part of the confusion here may be coming from the terminology involved. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary." I've bolded the phrase "employed or unemployed", because that's the key part here. (For reference, the BLS glossary also offers specific definitions for civilian, employed and unemployed.)

So, as defined by the BLS, the "Civilian Labor Force" consists of every American who: 1) is over 16 but not too old to work, 2) isn't in jail, 3) isn't in the military, 4) isn't employed by the federal government, and 5) doesn't work on a farm.

That's why the numbers you were looking at didn't match up with news reports on job losses. What you're describing is growth in the number of Americans eligible for a job, not growth in the number who have a job. -- Ryan Pitts, online producer

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