Labor secretary 'insulted' by claims job numbers were rigged

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said she is “insulted” by charges Friday from conservatives saying the Obama administration manipulated September’s jobs report to boost the president’s reelection chances. 

Solis said the claims — by Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch — that her department fudged the employment numbers were “ludicrous.”

"I'm insulted when I hear that, because we have a very professional civil service organization where you have top, top economists," Solis said on CNBC. 

"These are our best trained and best skilled individuals working at the BLS. It's really ludicrous to hear that kind of statement."

Solis was pushing back after West and Welch, in separate posts on social media, questioned the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report showing the unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.

The economy added 114,00 jobs in September, according to the BLS. The report also revised job growth figures up in July and August, and it showed more people are now entering the workforce.

“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers,” Welch tweeted after the jobs data was released. He later told the Wall Street Journal: "I wasn't kidding" about the tweet.

West chimed in with his own a Facebook post. The Florida lawmaker said the books were cooked to help President Obama, who is trying to bounce back from a poor performance in this week’s first presidential debate against Republican Mitt Romney. 

“Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the Presidential election,” West wrote on his Facebook page. “This is Orwellian to say the least and representative of Saul Alinsky tactics from the book 'Rules for Radicals' — a must read for all who want to know how the left strategize.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed the claims as "utter nonsense."

"Any serious person who has any familiarity with how these numbers are tabulated understands that these are career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that are responsible for compiling and analyzing these numbers, and they do that on their own," Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route of an Obama campaign event in Ohio.

West did not offer any evidence to back up his belief the jobs number was rigged, but said he agreed with Welch.

“Chicago style politics is at work here,” West wrote.

Sen. Charles Schumer (R-N.Y.) said the allegations were evidence Republicans are rooting for the economy to fail so they can win in November. 

"These half-baked conspiracy theories are proof that some of the President's opponents are openly rooting for the economy to do poorly just to boost their political prospects," Schumer said. "Republicans should welcome a lower unemployment rate, not curse it as an unwanted October surprise." 

The charges drew rebukes elsewhere, too, including from CNBC's "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer, who said Welch went too far. 

“I come back and just say 'Listen, they've been wrong both ways, Jack. I don't think that they're phony,’ ” Cramer said of the monthly jobs reports. 

“I just disagree with him on it, I disagree with him. I read the tweet and I was like 'Aw, darn Jack, come on, man.’ ”

Jared Bernstein, a former economic adviser to Vice President Biden, also blasted Welch. 

"I’m going to say this very starkly. Jack Welch should be ashamed of himself. There’s absolutely no way the Bureau of Labor Statistics cooks these numbers. They have tremendous integrity," Bernstein says. 

"I’m sorry he doesn’t like the direction of the numbers. I will very much admit that these numbers jump around from month to month. They do. But to say that these numbers are cooked by the BLS is terribly obfuscating and completely wrong."

The new jobs report has the potential to boost Obama in the final month of the election campaign, allowing him to argue the economy is on the right track to recovery. 

In addition to the lower unemployment rate, the BLS revised figures for July and August to show stronger growth.

In July, the economy added 181,000 jobs and in August it added 142,000, according to the report. Originally, Labor had estimated the economy added 141,000 in July and 96,000 in August. 

Solis said that the dip in the unemployment rate did not come from one single number, but rather a range of factors, including strong revisions on initial estimates for the prior two months.

"I have the highest regard for our professionals," she said.

West wasn’t convinced. 

“We all want the suffering of the American people from this rampant scourge of unemployment to end,” he wrote. 

“However, today's jobs report is confusing to say the least. Previous months numbers have been revised and yet the workforce participation rate remains at a 30 year low. The unemployment rate drops to 7.8 percent, that is where it was in January 2009 when the President took office. But the U6 computation of unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged Americans remains the same at 14.7 percent. Trust the Obama administration? Sure, and the spontaneous reaction to a video caused the death of our Ambassador….and pigs fly.”

—Vicki Needham, Daniel Strauss and Christian Heinze contributed. This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m.