I don't like being baffled. I don't like looking at a nonfarms payroll report that says only 38,000 people when we were expecting at least 138,000 and not having any idea how that disappointing figure came about.
Sure, we can try to piece it together. The Labor Department tells us mining has lost 10,000 jobs, which makes 207,000 jobs since reaching a peak in September 2014. That's what happens when coal just gives up the ghost. We know that within "manufacturing" of durable goods, 7,000 lost their jobs in machinery and 3,000 in furniture and related products. Employment in what's known as information declined 34,000, of which "about 35,000" were striking Verizon (VZ) workers. Many industries -- finance, construction, hospitality and leisure, transportation and government -- were little changed, except for health care, where costs obviously continue to rise, as 24,000 people were added to the rolls in ambulatory care, 17,000 in hospitals and 5,000 in nursing care facilities. That's 487,000 people hired in that industry in the last year.
Here's my problem. That information plus comments like "the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons increased by 468,000 to 6.4 million in May, after showing little movement since November," a number that represented individuals who would have preferred full-time employment but had their hours cut back, or because they were unable to find a full-time job, tell us so little.
Were these jobs lost or hours cut back in areas where minimum wages were raised? Were they oilfield-related, and oil companies and pipeline companies have been laying off people? Were the jobs lost in fast food, where automation's been making it so fewer people touch a hamburger? Or banks, where apps have led to massive migration to hand-held banking, eliminating tons of bricks-and-mortar jobs? Were these jobs lost because outfits like Salesforce.com (CRM) let you connect directly to your customer, often without a secretarial or clerical intermediary? Was it pure productivity gains? We just don't know.
Plus, we got these maddening revisions. March's employment figure was revised from 208,000 to 186,000 and April from 160,000 to 123,000. That could be the difference between the Federal Reserve thinking the economy is overheating and it needs to raise rates vs. an economy that's just fine and nothing need be done. How are these outrageous revisions possible? The Labor Department says that's because "it incorporates additional information that was not available at the time of the initial publication of the estimates."
To which I say, enough already. Major economic decisions are made because of all of these numbers. Huge decisions.
It is incredible to me that Amazon (AMZN) could track a pair of Rockports I bought every second along the way and the Labor Department can't track tens of thousands of people and what they are doing. We have companies with artificial-intelligence capabilities that can predict almost perfectly well ahead of the numbers of goods bought and which ones are in demand. We have supply chains for billions of items that are almost never wrong. Or just go ask IBM's (IBM) Watson, for heaven's sake. (Amazon is part of TheStreet's Growth Seeker portfolio.)
The precision in industry is fantastic. The precision in government in this, the most important tally in the world, is nonexistent. This is the least rigorous part of our government's statistical gathering and it is just plain maddening.
It's time for the Labor Department to come into the 21st century and outsource this survey. We simply can't have it be this lacking in depth or being incorrect altogether.
When I asked the president's press secretary, he didn't even think it mattered, instead saying not to get caught up in any one or two months.
But it is not me who is being caught up. It is the stock market, the bond market, the Fed, the real economy, for heaven's sake.
Whoever wins the presidency in the fall, this process must change. It's an outrage. It's stupid and it is embarrassing for a great country like ours to have such knuckleheaded data. It's a problem everybody knows about but no one does a thing about. That's got to change and change now and I hope any of the myriad firms that could do a better job is listening and volunteers its services, because this Mickey Mouse tallying project must end.
There. I've said it. Which information technology company wants to step up because, alas, anything's better than what we have now.