Krugman suggests Trump might have cooked books on positive job figures, then apologizes

Friday, economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman tweeted:

Well, the BLS reports a GAIN in jobs and a FALL in unemployment, which almost nobody saw coming. Maybe it’s true, and the BLS is definitely doing its best, but you do have to wonder what’s going on. 1/

I’ve been through a number of episodes over the years in which official numbers tell a story at odds with what more informal evidence suggests; often it turns out that there was something quirky (NOT fraudulent) about the official numbers. 2/

This being the Trump era, you can’t completely discount the possibility that they’ve gotten to the BLS, but it’s much more likely that the models used to produce these numbers — they aren’t really raw data — have gone haywire in a time of pandemic 3/

Whatever happened, these numbers should make you more, not less, pessimistic about the economic outlook. Why? Because they will reinforce the White House inclination to do nothing and let emergency aid expire 4/

Krugman’s remarks led to some backlash.

Former BLS head Erica Groshen wrote:

@jasonfurman is spot on. As former BLS Commissioner, I see no red flags. And, knowing the processes used and integrity of BLS staff, I think it very unlikely. Commissioners see no number before it’s final. If I hear anything different, I’ll trumpet it loudly.

Krugman then apologized, writing:

Getting a lot of outraged pushback over even allowing the possibility of something amiss at BLS. I was just covering myself, because so many weird things have happened lately. But I apologize for any suggestion that a highly professional agency might have been corrupted. 1/

And as I look at the data, I’m starting to believe that the modest job gains may well have been real, not an artifact of the models. I was already on record saying that predictions of a huge job loss didn’t look right 2/

Again, this does not mean that we’re out of the woods. If expanded benefits expire and aid to state/local govts isn’t provided — which is now more likely — late summer/early fall will be hell 3/