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White House Cites Jobs Report As Evidence Of Consumer Confidence

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The U.S. Labor Department says employers added 227,000 jobs in January. That's significantly more than most economists had expected. And the unemployed rate ticked up a tenth of a percent to 4.8 percent, which is just more people are looking for work. So the first jobs report of the Donald Trump era was a positive one. Here's how White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer described it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SEAN SPICER: Today's report reflects the consumer confidence that the Trump presidency has inspired.

CORNISH: That might sound a bit strange to anyone who listened to Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Back then, Trump was skeptical of the Labor Department's figures.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know our real unemployment rate isn't the 5.2 percent. That was done for political reasons.

That was arrived at so that presidents and politicians look good.

The real number is 20 percent, and it could be more than that.

CORNISH: So how did Trump get from 5.2 percent to 20 percent? Well, at that time he cited the fact that the Labor Department excludes a large swath of unemployed people from the count.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Because people that look for jobs and give up, they're considered statistically employed. Folks, no more.

CORNISH: So are these unemployment figures artificially low so presidents and politicians can look good, as Trump the candidate said?

DIANE SWONK: No. If they were, they would have made them a lot better a lot sooner.

CORNISH: Diane Swonk is the CEO of DS economics in Chicago.

SWONK: It's very hard to have conspiracies in terms of distorting this data because I spent time with statisticians, they're bureaucrat statisticians. And you almost have to drink because they're that boring to be around. You know, they're really just thinking about how to measure the economy the best. They've done this over decades.

CORNISH: Now the Trump White House seems to be comfortable citing the Labor Department's calculations, but Diane Swonk offers one bit of advice to the new administration. If you hang your hat on the good jobs reports, you'll have to hang your hat on the bad ones, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.