Behind the Labor Department’s gambling game of job reports

If we are to believe the US Labor Department, companies went through a massive hiring spurt in April and then slammed on the brakes in May.

Neither is likely.

Today, we are going to have a little fun with the numbers. At the end of this item I’ll tell you the only number that really counts.

Last Friday, the Department announced that only 75,000 jobs were created in May. That was down massively from the 263,000 new jobs that were initially reported in April — oh, wait, the Department now says April’s job growth was only 224,000.

And, while you are at it, change March’s growth from 189,000 new jobs to just 153,000.

Phew! How can anyone believe the numbers being put out by this government agency, or, for that matter, any government agency, when they are revised so radically just a month later?

The May job report was a lot weaker than the experts’ consensus predicted. And I thought May would also be strong because the Labor Department has its thumb on the scale. As I’ve explained too many times, the government uses something called the Birth/Death Model — on top of seasonal adjustments and other tricks — when coming up with the number you see in the headlines.

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In May, the Labor Department’s guesstimate model added 204,000 jobs to the count. And that still wasn’t enough to make May’s figure impressive.

And, by revising downward the number of jobs in April by 39,000 jobs (from 263,000 to 224,000) the Labor Department is pretty much admitting that its guessing for that month was off.

So, as I’ve been telling you for a long time, the government’s economic data is something to be played with, to have fun with, to bet on if you trade stocks, but not to be believed until it gets revised and checked numerous times.

Are there any job figures that can be believed? There is one figure that is untouched by guesses and seasonal adjustments and is neither hankied nor pankied. That’s the number of total jobs in the country — a figure that also comes from the US Labor Department. But, with the exception of the most recent months, it has already been revised.

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What’s that figure show? Right now there are 151.095 million jobs in the US, compared with 148.754 million as of last May. That’s job growth of 2.35 million, or an average of 195,833 jobs a month.

You decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad, adequate or not. But those are numbers that haven’t been fooled with.

The monthly figures: Those are only useful to the gamblers on Wall Street who place bets based on whether the numbers meet expectations or not.

The May figure didn’t meet expectations and Wall Street rallied because it thinks the Federal Reserve will now be forced to cut interest rates, maybe even as early as this month.

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