Labor Stood Ready on Veteran Data — Nobody Called After Last Debate

Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Job seekers speaks with an employer at the Veterans On Wall Street job fair in New York.

At least one Bureau of Labor Statistics staffer is willing to upset the White House, despite what you may have heard.

Jim Borbely, an economist with the federal agency responsible for reporting unemployment figures, was ready to go toe-to-toe with the president over veterans’ jobless data after the final debate last week. Problem is, nobody asked him for his take.

President Barack Obama told the 59.2 million people who watched the third and final Oct. 22 presidential debate that “the first lady has done great work with an organization called Joining Forces putting our veterans back to work.”

“And as a consequence, veterans’ unemployment is actually now lower than the general population,” Obama said. “It was higher when I came into office.”

At work the next day, Borbely grabbed the debate transcript and the jobs data, and fact-checked the president.

“It didn’t quite match up,” Borbely said. It “was not a totally correct statement.”

When Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, the veteran unemployment rate was 7.4 percent, already lower than the 7.8 percent rate for the total population. If Obama meant to refer to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, he’d be wrong there too –they’re worse off now than when Obama took office. That group had a jobless rate of 9.7 percent in September 2012, up from 8.9 percent in January 2009.

Borbely said he didn’t get any calls about the issue.

Still, he said he wanted to be ready because the bureau took some heat from the public after it reported that U.S. unemployment had dropped to 7.8 percent in September.

Jack Welch, the former General Electric Co. chief executive officer, alleged the economic data may have been manipulated to show job gains shortly before the presidential election.

“We did get a lot of angry and nasty phone calls accusing us of doing all sorts of things that we weren’t doing so we wanted to prepare,” Borbely said. “We try to inform the public about what happens, but sometimes they don’t want to hear it.”


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