Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Do the Job Numbers Really Add Up?


Last Friday the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the first month of this new year 243,000  jobs were created and the unemployment rate (U.3) fell to 8.3 percent.  This good news is a mirage. It is due to faulty seasonal adjustments and to the BLS birth/death model. In a prolonged downturn, seasonal adjustments and the birth/death model produce nonexistent employment.

The unadjusted data show a rise in the unemployment rate. The birth/death model, which estimates the net effect of jobs lost from business failures and jobs created by new start-ups was designed for a normal growing economy, not for a prolonged downturn four years old. Statistician John Williams ( reports that the BLS adds 48,000 new jobs per month to the payroll employment report based on the birth/death model even though the economy has not  come out of the deep recession. In other words, over the course of a year, the birth/death model adds about 580,000 jobs to the reported jobs numbers.  End of year benchmark revisions quietly take the nonexistent jobs out of the totals, but these revisions do not receive headlines and pass largely unnoticed.

The reported January jobs gains are contradicted by other official reports. For example, The January payroll jobs report shows 50,000 new jobs in manufacturing, but according to the recently released 4th quarter GDP, 81% of the reported growth consisted of undesired inventory accumulation.  Normally, companies produce for sales not for inventories. Why would manufacturers be hiring people to produce goods for undesired inventories?

Most of the new reported January jobs are in services. The January jobs report has 24,500 new jobs in wholesale and retail trade and 13,100 in transportation and warehousing. However the data shows that inflation-corrected real retail sales are down. Why does it take more people to sell fewer goods?

The other remaining sizable components of the January jobs number are: professional and technical services (30,000), administrative and waste services (36,700), health care and social assistance (29,700), and leisure and hospitality (44,000) of which the largest component is food services and drinking places (32,800).

The leisure, waitresses and bartender employment numbers seen high for January. Perhaps it was an excellent ski month in the US.  However, accommodation (hotels)  does not support this conclusion as accommodation lost 3,900 jobs.

The BLS reports 21,000 new jobs in construction. However, the housing report says that housing starts dropped more than forecast in December, falling 4.1 percent. Why does it take more construction workers to produce fewer houses? Building permits, a proxy for future construction, were little changed.

As the adjusted data produce phantom jobs and employment, the BLS should headline the raw unadjusted data. With so many discouraged workers unable to find jobs, dropping discouraged workers out of the measure of unemployment seriously understates the true magnitude of the unemployment problem.  If Americans were aware of the double-digit unemployment rate, would they be as tolerant of Washington’s multi-trillion dollar wars?  Would Obama be facing a tougher re-election campaign? Would Republicans be pushing to reduce the federal budget deficit at the expense of the social safety net?

The phony data serve many interests, but not those of the American people.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.  His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached through his website

Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Roberts’ How the Economy Was Lost is now available from CounterPunch in electronic format. His latest book is The Neoconservative Threat to World Order.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017