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Jack Welch again sees something ‘wacky’ in jobs data

story by Joshua Zumbrun
Bloomberg News

Jack Welch isn’t backing down.

One day before the presidential election, the former General Electric Co. chief executive officer again suggested that government figures on employment are being manipulated for political gain.

“Every fact says we don’t have a booming economy,” Welch said today in an interview on CNBC. “Something’s wacky here. I didn’t think it was right.”

An Oct. 5 Labor Department report showed the jobless rate dropped to 7.8% in September, the lowest since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, from 8.1$ the month before. Economists had forecast the rate would rise to 8.2%, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.

“Unbelievable jobs numbers. . . these Chicago guys will do anything. . . can’t debate so change numbers,” Welch wrote in a Twitter message immediately after the report on Oct. 5.

The Obama campaign is based in Chicago.

Welch renewed his criticism even after economists such as Charles Plosser, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said the numbers are sound and defended the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Welch wasn’t available to comment further, said his assistant, Rosanne Badowski.

The unemployment rate rose again last month to 7.9%, according to the Labor Department’s Nov. 2 report. Employers added 171,000 workers to payrolls, up from 148,000 in September and exceeding the most optimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

“This thing is filled with assumptions,” Welch said today (Nov. 5).

He backed Republican Presidential challenger Mitt Romney in a January interview with CNBC, calling him “the most qualified leader I’ve ever seen run for the presidency of the United States.”

Holtz-Eakin, who served as chief economist on President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, said it’s not unusual to see surprises in the monthly Labor Department data, and he defended the statisticians who compile the report.

“I’ve never been one of those who felt that the numbers get doctored,” Holtz-Eakin said in an Oct. 5 interview on Bloomberg Television. “These are professionals. They do this as a career. I have a lot of respect for them. But like any other enterprise, every now and then you just get a weird number, and this one makes no sense.”

Plosser agreed, telling reporters on Oct. 11 that “I can’t imagine that’s the case,” that the numbers are manipulated. “The statisticians and the people that work on this stuff have a lot of integrity.”

Ronald Reagan is the only president to have been re-elected since World War II with a jobless rate above 6%. The rate was 7.2% on Election Day 1984, having dropped almost 3 percentage points in the previous 18 months. Through October this year, the rate has dropped 1.1 points in the same period under Obama.

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Obama led Romney 48% to 45% in an Oct. 31- Nov. 3 national poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, a survey that was deadlocked at 47% each a week ago. Polls conducted by NBC News with the Wall Street Journal and ABC News with the Washington Post also showed movement for the president in recent days, albeit a one-percentage point edge for Obama that is inside the margin of error for both surveys.

In weekend polls in Ohio and Iowa, two of the most hard-fought states, the president held a slight advantage, suggesting the race will turn on which candidate does the better job of turning out his own supporters.

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