Suspicions rise after steep drop in US unemployment numbers

Conspiracy theorists came out in force after the government reported a sudden drop in the US unemployment rate one month before Election Day. Their message: The Obama administration would do anything to ensure a November victory, including manipulating unemployment data.

The conspiracy was widely rejected. Officials at the Labor Department said the jobs figures are calculated by highly trained government employees without any political interference. Democrats and even some Republicans said they also found the charges implausible.

The conspiracy erupted after former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, a Republican, tweeted his skepticism five minutes after the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8 per cent in September from 8.1 per cent the month before.

"Unbelievable jobs numbers... these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers," Welch tweeted, referring to the site of Obama campaign headquarters.

The Obama administration wasn't given much time to gloat about the strong economic improvement. Instead, it had to defend statisticians and economists against accusations made without any supporting evidence.

"No serious person ... would make claims like that,'' said Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Justin Wolfers, a professor of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, went on Twitter to say Welch "just labeled himself an idiot".

The jobs report is prepared under tight security each month by a relatively obscure government agency ó the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ó without any oversight or input from the White House. It is based on data collected by an army of census workers, who interview Americans in 60,000 households by telephone or door-to-door.

Eight days before the unemployment rate is made public, the bureau's office suite goes into lockdown. Tom Nardone, a 36-year veteran at the agency who oversees preparation of the report, keeps crucial papers in a safe in his office.

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