Fox News' Steve Doocy cast completely unwarranted suspicion on the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment statistics, saying it was "curious" that the agency had issued a downward revision to the number of jobs the economy created in the months leading up to the November election.
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report showing the economy added 146,000 jobs in November. The report also revised the estimates for its September and October jobs reports, finding that the economy had added 50,000 fewer jobs in those months than previously thought.
After Fox reported on the numbers, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said: "It's interesting what [Fox Business senior Washington correspondent] Peter Barnes said from Washington, and that was that in the two months running up to the election, now there apparently have been some revisions for September and October: 50,000 fewer jobs were created than reported by the federal government. That's curious."
Doocy did not explain what was curious about the revision, but his assertion comes after Fox's repeated attempt to cast doubt on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs numbers in the lead-up to the election. In October and early November, Fox News repeatedly embraced jobs number conspiracies to suggest that BLS was fixing its numbers to be politically advantageous to President Obama.
In fact, there is nothing curious about the revisions to the jobs data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly revises its initial numbers because they come from a statistically volatile small survey. The Bureau maintains a table showing the revisions to its over-the-month estimates for every month going back to 1979, which shows that the jobs numbers are regularly revised by tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of jobs between the initial estimate and later estimates.
New York Times economics reporter Catherine Rampell has explained that the jobs numbers included in the BLS monthly reports have a margin of error of 400,000 and have "wild swings" every month:
These numbers are always tremendously volatile, but the reasons are statistical, not political. The numbers come from a tiny survey with a margin of error of 400,000. Every month there are wild swings, and no one takes them at face value. The swings usually attract less attention, though, because the political stakes are usually lower.
The numbers, by the way, are especially imprecise (and prone to revision) when the economy is making a turn, or when regular seasonal patterns start to change.
Part of the reason the numbers are revised every month is simply because the BLS doesn't have all of the necessary survey data before the scheduled release of the report. Caitlin Kenney wrote at NPR's Planet Money blog that the revisions come from additional data being added to the Bureau's initial survey:
The revisions in the [September] jobs report come from the establishment survey, and the reason they happen is that the BLS doesn't have all the information at the time the numbers are calculated. The BLS gives businesses and government agencies a deadline to submit their data but not everyone makes it. The information that comes in after the cut off date is what causes the revisions. BLS economist Megan Barker explained it to me this way:
After the press release, we are continuing to get more data so that can cause slight movements in what is showing as employment change over the month. We do have a second and a third revision to all of our data.
So if a business didn't get the BLS their data in time for the official release, they'll show up in the revision. Another reason the numbers change Barker says, it that sometimes the BLS will choose to hold data. If the numbers they get from a business seem unusually high or how, the BLS may wait until it can verify them.