We have better and more accessible economic statistics than ever before in history. But there's a serious risk they could be undermined by the new administration.

Share story

During the campaign, Donald Trump complained that the unemployment rate was fake. “Don’t believe these phony numbers,” Trump said. “The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35 (percent). In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.”

Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, told a confirmation hearing, “The unemployment rate is not real. I’ve traveled for the last year. I’ve seen this.”

The official January unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

As if often the case with this truth-challenged president, his assertions are false. The unemployment rate, based on two surveys, is calculated using transparent, rigorous methods, carried out by career civil servants in the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The result is six different measures of “labor underutilization,” including the headline “official” rate (U-3), as well as U-6, which counts discouraged workers and those in temp jobs who want full-time work.

Now that Trump is in the White House, we should worry whether he is going to act on his campaign rhetoric in this matter. He’s been quick to do so elsewhere, and not only in immigration.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already begun to remove climate-change information from the Obama years. According to the Washington Post, scientists are desperately copying federal climate data, fearing Trump might eliminate or distort it. Trump denies mainstream science on climate and favors embarking on a huge expansion of fossil fuels extraction.

With the anti-worker fast-food mogul Andy Puzder nominated as Labor Secretary and Trump likely to pick his own person to lead the Federal Reserve, there’s a growing risk that government economic data may become compromised to support political lies. Trump has been critical of the civil service. We risk a major brain drain from agencies and the Fed. As with so much else now, this is unprecedented.

Falsifying, eliminating or distorting data would be a calamity for economists, scholars, journalists and average people who can gain access to a wealth of information on the internet. Historical timelines would be disrupted by false data. The loss would be staggering.

This is where the Congress would ordinarily be a backstop in the balance of powers. Unfortunately, it’s controlled by extremist Republicans who both fear Trump and want his cover to enact their nihilistic agenda. This is the same group that has spent years attacking the Census and wants to eliminate its invaluable American Community Survey.

Under the cloak of bad data, or no data, all sorts of mischief is possible.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Starbucks and Nordstrom

Facing boycotts from the right

Can’t win, USA