After nearly twenty years in Washington I thought I've seen every trick ever conceived, but the White House claims of "jobs saved" attributed to the stimulus bill is unrivaled. What causes the jaw to drop is not just the breathtaking deception of the claim, but the gullibility of the Washington press corps to continue reporting it.
News stories from President Obama's event last week hailing the 100-day mark since the stimulus was passed typically repeated the assertion that the stimulus has already "created or saved 150,00 jobs." ("And that's just the beginning," the President crowed.)
Here's an important note to my friends in the news media: the White House has absolutely no earthly clue how many job losses have been prevented because of the stimulus bill. None. Not Christina Romer. Not Jared Bernstein. Not Austen Goolsbee.
Each of these distinguished economists would have failed Statistics 101 for making such a laughable claim. But we see them now repeating these assertions to reporters who have seemingly abandoned all skepticism.
There is only one necessary data point to make the "jobs-saved" claim: an accurate measure of expected employment levels in the future. That baseline data is critical to measure what the employment level would be in the absence of the stimulus. Unfortunately for the White House, they cannot possibly know that measurement within any degree of confidence -- and they know it.
To understand just how unknowable this data point is, it's not necessary to be an economist, a mathematician or a statistician.You only need to know this: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) - thousands of the most professional and rigorous counters and analyzers of labor data in the history of mankind - makes TWO revisions of employment data for their ESTIMATE of the PREVIOUS month! And even then the reports are mere estimates - an annual benchmark survey is required to reset the nation's payroll baseline.