Here’s a Wall Street fact: There’s not one single economic report more influential on the markets, business sentiment, and the American psyche than the monthly jobs number. Typically released the first Friday of every month, this report card provides a single snapshot on how many people are unemployed and the number who were lucky to find jobs.
Increase in jobs = good.
Decrease in jobs = bad.
It’s that simple. And, it’s the reason why every newspaper in the country makes this story Topic A when the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes it.
The data are so critical, they are actually the deciding factor when the Federal Reserve considers monetary-policy moves. The Fed maintains it will continue its current bond-buying program and keep interest rates at historic lows until the unemployment rate drops from current levels and people return to work.
It also is a key gauge with consumer sentiment. Positive labor readings are followed by increases in consumer sentiment, which means more spending and happier Americans. You also see the same result in housing, since people become more confident making a large down payment on a property knowing their economic futures are somewhat stable.
The jobs number is essential and has spaghetti strings to every facet of our financial lives. And, not surprising, the data also can influence politics.
So today, as told in the New York Post, there is a major revelation about intentionally falsifying data by the Census Bureau in the lead-up to the 2012 Presidential Election.
Each month, the good folks at Census help Labor by cold calling Americans and asking them to take a quick survey (the Household Survey, which is where the unemployment rate is derived from). First question: Are you employed? Second question: When did you begin working? Third question: If you are not working, are you looking?
There are some 60,000 households called every month, and the person on the other end of the line is expected to answer these questions truthfully and honestly. Unfortunately, though, it has now been discovered at least one person asking the questions may not be as truthful and honest when reporting these answers.
In the lead-up to the 2012 Election, unemployment remained stubbornly above 8%. As a matter of fact, the number had not been below this level for more than three years. The incumbent for the White House was facing stiff competition and had just ended a horrible first debate, yet he received an early gift from Santa Claus in the September Jobs Report: 114,000 jobs added, 7.8% unemployment rate.
Any figure below 8% was going to be a remarkable positive for the President’s hopes of returning to the White House. But the current economic climate for September suggested we were only going to see a five-digit increase in new jobs, with unemployment remaining well above 8%.
The October reading was just as surprising, as the unemployment rate remained below 8% (7.9% was reported), which was a signal that the President’s economic policies may actually be working.
Now, if you’re an undecided voter, this news is probably going to help you make a decision when entering the voting booth. Conspiracy theory? Sure, but it’s worthy of consideration.
Conspiracy theories aside, though, what good are the data if they are intentionally flawed? Investment and life-changing decisions literally come from this monthly report card. If the free markets are indeed free, then how is it we can make proper decisions about our economic futures when a select few are intentionally altering macro reports for their own political gain?
There is nothing good about hearing this news. However, the one positive is it may stimulate a would-be entrepreneur to create an independent data gathering company and move this responsibility to the private sector. And, you can rest assured, the jobs created within that business will be accurately reported.
Todd M. Schoenberger is the founder and managing partner of LandColt Capital LP, and serves as Portfolio Manager of the LandColt Onshore and Offshore Funds.
Follow Todd on Twitter @TMSchoenberger and @LandColtCapital