OTR Interviews

Is the government cooking the books on job numbers?

ADP private survey shows US hiring slowed dramatically in April, but are the stats worse than we believe?

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 2, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you ready for this question? Is the government cooking the books? New questions tonight about the reliability of the nation's jobless numbers and unemployment rate. Is the government manipulating the numbers? And could that add up to more economic troubles?

Fox Business Network's Liz MacDonald joins us. Liz, is the government cooking the books on some of the numbers we see?

ELIZABETH MACDONALD, FOX BUSINESS: You know, we are seeing some weird things coming up in the jobs numbers, Greta. And you know, we're taking a dispassionate, kind of clinical look at the jobs numbers and we're seeing some kind of oddities that even Wall Street shops from both sides of the aisle are finding, as well.

Take the first-time jobless claims -- in other words, people who are filing for unemployment for the first time. For 59 of the last 60 weeks, those numbers have been revised higher after the fact. So what that means is, is when you have the present week's number and you compare it to the prior week's number, it looks great because that prior week's number was revised higher.

And the other thing we're finding, too, is that the unemployment rate -- again, this has been an issue that's come under both Democrat and Republican presidents -- the unemployment rate, it doesn't count the people who have dropped out. It only counts the people who have been actively looking for work.

So when you factor in the dropouts, that comes in at about 10.9 percent if you factor in that the labor force participation rate, meaning the number of people who are working in the labor force, would have stayed the same when the recession began in 2009.

So you know, the question is, when you see an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, you may say to yourself, Hey, the president's stimulus plan is working, but when you do a deep dive into the numbers and see what the actual rate is, it doesn't look so great.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, since the unemployment rate is squishy, for lack of a better term, because it doesn't include those people who have simply given up -- if you included those, is there some -- has anyone done any, you know, good, reliable analysis about what would -- what I refer to as the real unemployment rate, people who don't have jobs and who want them, even those who have sort of -- are in despair?

MACDONALD: Yes. You know, and again, it would come in at 10.9 percent. And then there's an even broader new number that people are very worried about, Greta. And that is the number of people in the labor force is about the same as it was -- get this -- in 1969. It was the same as it was in -- the rate is the same as it was in 1979. It's been the same as it was in 1982.

And that is worrisome on two fronts. You want more people working because if there's more people working, it means more Social Security tax revenues to basically pay for Social Security. And also, it means that we have more people working, it helps fund future unemployment benefits. In other words, when have you less people working, it means more government handouts.

So it is a concern, and this is a trend that's been growing under both presidents, on both sides of the political aisle.

VAN SUSTEREN: The unemployment number is often referred to as a lagging indicator. It's a little bit slow to respond to reality of what's going on in the economy. I'm curious, what is the best number -- if you want to sort of measure how vibrant the economy is, what is the best number and the most reliable number? And is -- or do we have to look at two areas?

MACDONALD: I think it's the labor force participation rate. In other words, it's the number of people who have been working who can work, meaning those who are 18 -- excuse me, 16 or older.

And so you know, when we look at the numbers going back, you know, some people would say, Hey, look, the reason why the labor force participation rate doesn't look so great is because more people are dropping out because it's more people retiring because they're Baby Boomers.

You know, when -- when you offset that with immigrants coming into the workforce or students coming into the workforce, it's still declining, Greta. So that's not a great number.

And the other issue, too, is, you know, when you look at the -- basically, again, this is both sides of the political aisle. We're looking at this dispassionately. When you look at the number of jobs that have been created under the president, 740,000. It was 8.9 million or so under President Ronald Reagan in his first 30 months.

And the other issue, too, is you'll hear time and again that the president has inherited this recession. We had a worse banking crisis in 1981. It's when CitiGroup got its first of three bailouts.

And I got to tell you something. You know, both sides of the political aisle have been in office in D.C. for a very long time. The vice president has been around since the Nixon administration. So has Charlie Rangel, you know, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid have been in office since the Reagan administration. So has Barney Frank and John Kerry.

So again and again, time and again, you'll hear presidents when they're in reelections say, I inherited a very problematic recession, a terrible recession. But again and again, they're -- basically, their party has been in office for a very long time. Again, this is not just a Democratic issue. It's also a Republican issue, as well, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Liz, thank you.

MACDONALD: Sure.