Putting a spin on the state’s jobless data

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 25, 2011

By Scott Mooneyham
Capitol Press Association
RALEIGH ó In a shocking development, North Carolinians recently learned that politicians like to spin information to make themselves look good.
Perhaps thatís the take that some had from a recent article by The Carolina Journal, a publication of the conservative John Locke Foundation, that Gov. Beverly Perdue and her administration had been spinning monthly unemployment reports to her advantage.
Don Carrington, the publicationís long-time executive editor, had another take: His piece questioned whether any early sharing of the unemployment numbers between the state Employment Security Commission and the governorís office could be a violation of federal law.
Carringtonís reporting showed that the agency, which receives the numbers from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, sent drafts of its monthly press releases on joblessness to the governor’s office for a bit of rewriting.
The changes typically involved how Lynn Holmes, the commissionís head and Perdue appointee, would characterize the numbers.
Carrington questioned whether the back-and-forth violated a federal law which prohibits release of the information while it is embargoed.
Perdueís office responded by saying it was ěentirely appropriateî that the commission provide the numbers to the governorís office.
Maybe so. Maybe not.
It is difficult to believe that this kind of information sharing doesnít go on in other states, as plenty of other governors also enjoy a magical ability to put out press releases on monthly job numbers about the same time as those statesí unemployment agencies.
Itís also true that the main point of the law is to prevent government officials from using the information to make investment decisions and to protect the identity of employers providing the data.
But the law is also meant to ensure that statistical data will only be used for statistical purposes. Political spin wouldnít seem to fall into that category.
If a legal issue exists, the parties involved ó and the public ó ought to know in the not-too-distant future.
I see a more troubling issue that can be gleaned from the article’s details.
Sure, every politician engages in some spin. The Carolina Journal piece, though, paints a portrait of a Perdue administration that spends an inordinate amount of time and energy sweating over a few lines in a press release.
The email trail followed by Carrington shows several Perdue administration officials with a hand in drafting quotes, with exchanges taking place over several hours and even days.
Both the governorís press office and Employment Security Commission appear consumed with the report as the third Friday of each month approaches.
Iíve got a message for you, governor: Nobody in the press or anywhere else cares what Lynn Holmes says about unemployment numbers, and we hardly read press release headlines (unless you misspell ěWalesî as ěWhales.î). We look at the numbers.
Other parts of the Perdue administration may be focused on the numbers and trying to improve the stateís job picture.
Thatís no excuse for wasting tax dollars and state personnel to pointlessly put some shine on that sowís ear.

Scott Mooneyham writes about state government for Capitol Press Association.