The Atlantic

Will GDP and Unemployment Numbers Be Politicized Under Trump?

The past seven presidents haven't dared to interfere with federal economic data. But Nixon had other ideas—and the current chief executive may as well.
Source: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

On the evening of September 1, 2011, I had the unpleasant task of delivering the confidential August jobs report to President Obama before it would be made public the next day. “I don’t like the look on your face,” I remember the president saying to me in the Oval Office.

“The job number is zero,” I said.

“Zero?” he asked. “What do you mean, ‘zero’?”

“The payroll jobs data is zero,” I replied.

Incredulous, the president asked, “You mean it is exactly zero? Like, if I took that paper out of your hand and looked at it, I would just see a zero?”

“Yes,” I replied with a wince.

“Has that ever happened before?” he asked.

“I don’t think so, sir,” I replied.

This was obviously not happy news. After he’d helped pass a payroll-tax cut and an extension of unemployment benefits near the end of 2010, the economy was projected to grow more than 3 percent in 2011. But after chaotic global events such as the Arab Spring and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, as well as

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Sudan and the Instagram Tragedy Hustle
The Sudan Meal Project and similar accounts claim to be helping—but they’re really just a ploy to get more followers.
The Atlantic9 min readPolitics
Debunking the Court’s Latest Death-Penalty Obsession
The conservative majority complains that capital-defense lawyers are making up claims at the last minute. It’s wrong.
The Atlantic3 min readPolitics
The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Kirsten’s Best-Laid Plans
The New York Senator and 2020 candidate isn’t where she thought she’d be at this point in the campaign. Plus: The Supreme Court weighs in on racial gerrymandering.