An Exploration Into How Politicians Make Up Numbers; The Mythical 74,000 Jobs Lost By FAA Shutdown

from the who-did-what-now? dept

A few years ago, we wrote about how the totally bogus job-loss and dollar-loss figures due to “piracy” made their way into the press and policy circles. Basically, someone made a random, unsourced claim once, years ago, and it got twisted and exaggerated as fact — with different groups citing each other to give it the heft of “as said by [insert distinguished institution here].” The same thing happens in politics all the time.

Trails point us to a similar analysis of the discussion over the recent FAA shutdown (which finally ended). If you read the press reports, you probably saw claims that 74,000 people lost jobs because of the shutdown. It was pretty much everywhere (here are just a few examples). Unfortunately, that number is totally and completely bogus.

The 70,000 figure entered the public sphere when the FAA turned to Associated General Contractors of America, a construction industry group, to calculate the economic impact of the FAA funding impasse. The FAA had halted more than 200 construction projects totaling $2.5 billion.

AGC dusted off the 3-year-old study conducted by Fuller. His research, designed to show the “multiplier effect” of the president’s stimulus package, concluded in early 2009 that $1 billion in nonresidential construction created or supported 28,500 jobs and added $3.4 billion to the Gross Domestic Product.

An AGC economist applied Fuller’s formula to the FAA’s $2.5 billion construction halt and came to the conclusion that it would put “24,000 construction workers out of work.” Another 11,000 workers in related businesses “are also affected,” the AGC said, and “as many as 35,000 jobs will be undermined in the broader economy, from the lunch wagon near the job site to the truck dealership across town.”

Now that does add up to 70,000 workers (plus the 4,000 directly furloughed by the FAA to get 74,000). Except… of course, that 46,000 of those jobs weren’t actually lost. They were just impacted. The guy who actually did the study admits that those other 46,000 jobs were not construction workers out of work, but people like “drug store clerks and restaurant waitresses, who might see ‘a tiny bit less revenue flow.'”

But that didn’t stop the press or the politicians. In fact, many of them quickly started inflating the already massively inflated 74,000 even higher:

Seventy-five thousand people are now over the precipice,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said at a Wednesday news conference.

“We have 80,000 jobs at least on the line,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid at one briefing Tuesday.


On Wednesday, the AFL-CIO Executive Council got into the action. In a news release, it said House Republicans “jeopardized 90,000 airport construction jobs.” Two sentences later, it went for the brass ring: “Congress must (act) to preserve almost 100,000 American jobs,” it said.

That this is probably more than three times the actual number… well, why let facts get in the way. And people wonder why no one trusts the AFL-CIO any more…

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Comments on “An Exploration Into How Politicians Make Up Numbers; The Mythical 74,000 Jobs Lost By FAA Shutdown”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If we only had to worry about 3 times a reasonable estimate for the claims they make up for piracy I might still be allowed to play my old video games.

I agree…except that I still play my old video games. I bought them…when the company breaks their software them I download the fix from the internet and I am again able to play them. As far as I am concerned, DRM is a bug, and there are great people out there that, despite the worst intentions of the company, help the community by removing these bugs.

What is even cooler is that communities have sprouted up over games which have been abandoned, such as Neverwinter Nights, and those games are still being updated and fixed even after the company that owned them is out of business. Too bad they have to live in a quasi-legal realm, thanks to infinite-duration copyrights and stupid policies from vendors. The consumer is left holding the trashbag while the company skips town with their money…but there are ways of fixing it.

out_of_the_blue says:

Oh, it's union-bashing, irresistible to neo-cons.

Was wondering where you were going.

The last three quotes you give are not statements of fact but hedged, or if you prefer, scary, weasely, or whatever pejorative, but they’re NOT stated as facts. And the leap from politicians in title to bashing the AFL-CIO for warning about job losses, however inflated, is simply unwarranted. — But highly indicative. Anyone who’s for working people ends up for unions, despite obvious flaws, as one of the few remaining organizations opposing gov’t and corporate power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh, it's union-bashing, irresistible to neo-cons.

Did it ever occur to you that you are reading and hearing things through an incredibly narrow context filter? I’m willing to bet that most people reading this article did not draw the sweeping and unfounded conclusion that you did. Especially since it is more than equally possible that the writer’s goal was NOT to bash unions, but simply to point out they used the most inaccurate figure.

You also make a sweeping statement that anyone who’s for working people ends up for unions. One side of my family is wholly blue collar and they all (at least those I’ve spoken to) despise unions for their corruption.

Jacob Cooper (profile) says:

Regarding the AFL-CIO… For the majority of my adult life I supported the concept and implementation of employee unions. Then, I had the opportunity to join one of the largest in the nation, the Communication Workers of America.

I became active within the organization and was elected to the executive board of our local branch. From this vantage point I was able to observe the workings of the union on both a local and national level.

Based on my observations and experience, I will never support another union organization in this country in the current state of their existence. Mismanaged funds, petty rivalries, thuggish behavior and more have convinced me that unions in the US are currently no different than the bloated corporations that they claim to be against.

The reason no one trusts the AFL-CIO any more is not just because they get the facts wrong. It’s also because the union leaders only represent themselves and not the average working person who they claim to represent.

jane mclellan says:


The unions as well as the government are run by men….. The petty, thuggish behavior and more are typical of a sect of males that get elected to their positions,,,I am disgusted by their antics.I am not saying that females would do a better job and not abuse the power the wield….There needs a new system to keep the country going…. I don’t think it is a democrat or republican answer… Common sense should rule…

Anonymous Coward says:

When you read the CNN story, you come to understand that all that has happened is that a couple of qualifying terms have been dropped, likely due to the old fashioned “telephone effect”. Basically, I tell someone something, they tell someone, and so on, and at each telling, the truth slips a little. By the 10th time, the story is completely different.

Somewhere along the line, someone dropped the “impacted” word and just left the “laid off” term in there, and thus we have a bit of a run away story.

It’s not really anything more than that.

Trails (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Slight reduction in revenue” -> “lost their job” is not dropping a “qualifying term”.

Not to mention the subsequent growth from 74k to 100k, which is nothing but pure inflation in order to score points.

It’s blatantly deceptive, you should expect more from your elected officials, I do, even if they routinely disappoint.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You missed the point – the qualifying term was lost somewhere along the line, and the politicians are only repeating what they have been told by staff members who likely got the numbers from someone who got the numbers from someone who forgot to include the qualifier in there.

Blaming the elected officials is easy, like shooting fish in a barrel when you have no barrel and you just tape the fish on the end of the gun. But it doesn’t explain how they got there, it is only complaining about the result.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I honestly, deep down, do not care how the politician came to the point of presenting me with an inaccurate statistic that just so happens to permit him to vilify his opponent and assume a moral high ground in a battle of childishly entrenched positions, neither of which I agree with. He gets paid more than me and has power over my every day life because he claims he will get things right. When he fails to, it is a Big Big Deal(tm). I blame Hoyer and Reid personally for getting this wrong, especially if they were simply parroting something they had been told by staff members who got the numbers from someone who got the numbers from someone who forgot to include the qualifier.

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