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Elastic Numbers Make It Hard to Get a Handle on the Economy

New York Times (08/03/13) Jeff Sommer

The economic data released by the federal government last week shed scant light on the health of the economy. The U.S. Department of Labor revised job creation figures downward from 195,000 in both May and June to 176,000 for May and 188,000 for June, yet the unemployment rate in July fell to 7.4% from 7.6% in June. Separately, gross domestic product numbers released Wednesday point to an ailing economy.

However, something is wrong with the numbers, which are malleable. The tepid GDP outlook is difficult to reconcile with the decline in the unemployment rate we’ve been seeing, says Joseph G. Carson, director of global economic research at AllianceBernstein. “Growth in the private sector, which has been running at 3.3%, probably helps to explain the drop in the jobless rate,” he says. He contends the overall GDP figures aren’t yet reflecting reality and that GDP growth over the last two years has been more robust than reported. “I think the economy will be picking up [in the second half of the year], and the numbers will start to show that.”