Democrats ask White House to stand up for government data

Register now

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Democrats aired their grievances over how the White House has addressed government data, sending a letter that cited concerns about maintaining the independence and integrity of a leading statistical agency.

The eight lawmakers, led by Washington Senator Patty Murray, on Thursday called for a commitment from President Donald Trump’s administration to stand by “essential, independent work” particularly of the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes the monthly jobs report and other regular economic figures.

“We find it necessary to seek this commitment because you and representatives of your administration have expressed a clear skepticism and distrust of, among other statistics, the monthly unemployment rate and employment reports,” according to the letter.

A White House official said the administration respects the independence of BLS but wants the numbers to be as accurate and reflective of economic conditions as possible.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the government’s unemployment rate, calling it “phony” on the campaign trail and estimating the “real” figure at as high as 42 percent -- compared with the official 4.8 percent rate as of January. The president noted Tuesday in his address to Congress that 94 million Americans are out of the labor force -- an accurate figure, but one that is misleading because it includes those who choose to be out of work for reasons including school, parenting, care for a family member, or retirement.

Discrediting the economic data could have ripple effects. The jobless figures are among the key data points that Federal Reserve officials track when setting interest rates.

Other members of his administration, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, also have called for giving more attention to the underemployment rate, which includes Americans who are working part time but would take a full-time job if it were available.

--With assistance from Justin Sink

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.