Keeping The Biggest Secret In The U.S. Economy | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Keeping The Biggest Secret In The U.S. Economy

Play associated audio

The single most important number in the U.S. economy comes out on the first Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m. That's when the government reports how many jobs were added or gained in the previous month.

The number moves markets, and economists and traders around the world wait anxiously to see what it will be. If you found out early what the number was going to be, you could make a fortune.

The government knows this, of course, and officials take extreme precautions to make sure that no one finds out early.

I visited the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently and talked to Megan Barker, an economist who works on the jobs report. But I couldn't visit her office: Unless you have business inside Barker's office, there is no getting in.

The maintenance crew doesn't collect trash in the days leading up to a release. The IT department is also kept away. Computer problems? Tough luck.

So what exactly is going on that's so top secret? Inside, economists are sifting through data from thousands of employers and people around the country. Each month, the BLS surveys about 140,000 businesses and government agencies.

Don't even think about asking these economists who's on the list. They won't say.

The end result are the numbers that tell us how many jobs the U.S. economy added or lost the previous month — the number Wall Street is watching so closely.

Barker and a handful of other people know it by Tuesday — but they are under strict rules not to tell anyone.

"We keep it very secret," Barker says. "I know my parents ask me every Tuesday, 'So what do you think?' And I'm like, 'Well, what do you think?' So I even have to be secretive with my parents."

Barker and her colleagues have to keep this secret until 8:30 a.m. on the day of the release.

Journalists standing by at the Labor Department get the numbers a half hour early, but they can't talk about them until precisely 8:30 a.m.

That can mean waiting through several long seconds of dead air, as CNBC's Hampton Pearson did during December's release.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

No Demons, No Angels: Attica Locke Aims For Black Characters Who Are Human

In her new novel, Pleasantville, and on TV's Empire, Locke does her best to avoid simple stories. "You do some good stuff and you do some bad stuff," she says. "... We exist in the middle."
NPR

When Danish Cows See Fresh Spring Pasture, They Jump For Joy

Thousands of spectators gather every April to see ecstatic cows return to fields on organic farms around Denmark. The organic industry says the event has helped fuel demand for organic foods.
NPR

Proposed Retirement Advice Rule Has Worrisome Loopholes, Experts Say

The Department of Labor has crafted a proposed rule to better protect Americans saving for retirement. But questions are already being raised about how effective the new measure would be.
NPR

Solar Power Makes Electricity More Accessible On Navajo Reservation

The panels, funded by government grants, are helping thousands of tribal residents take advantage of the everyday luxuries enjoyed by other Americans — like turning on lights or storing food.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.