Don't impugn the employment stats messengers

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Politics may be politics, but please don't blame the statisticians. The headline on the front page of Saturday's Post-Gazette, "Jobless Rate Falls to 7.8 Percent, But Not Without Issue," trumpets political doubt about the nation's most trusted data collectors and the nation's premier economic surveys used to measure employment and unemployment. Contrary to the claims, government statisticians are not part of the political process; they don't fiddle with the numbers to help one party or another. Those who don't like the message should not attempt to shoot the messenger.

I served as a consultant to the National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics, and later as chair of the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academies of Science. I can attest to the fact that the professional scrutiny lavished upon the household Current Population Survey and the employer Current Economic Statistics survey is unrivaled elsewhere in government. The process that leads to the monthly release of employment and unemployment figures was designed to prevent political or other manipulations. Both the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics follow the highest statistical and economic standards in designing, implementing and reporting on their surveys. Impugning their honesty does a great disservice to the nation.

STEPHEN E. FIENBERG
Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science
Carnegie Mellon University
Oakland


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