Those who posit that the Obama administration cooked the books to get an official unemployment rate below 8 percent might want to ponder an electoral history lesson from Gene Epstein in the latest Barron’s.

Epstein remembers the raised eyebrows 20 years ago when George H.W. Bush’s Commerce Department announced in October 1992 that third-quarter growth in gross domestic product had reached 2.7 percent, up from 1.5 percent in the second quarter. As Epstein notes, the October 1992 “accusations of data-fraud in high places” had an “ironic denouement,” since the first President Bush had lost his re-election bid by the time the Commerce Department revised those growth figures to 4.3 percent and 4.2 percent.

Having established that the prospect of election-inspired statistical shenanigans is nothing new, Epstein goes on to offer his assessment of the latest unemployment numbers.

Here’s what the improvement mainly showed: It has taken 35 months for unemployment to fall just 2.2 percentage points from its October 2009 high of 10%, to the still-recessionary number of 7.8%. Joe Biden was asked in the vice-presidential debate Thursday how long it would take to get joblessness under 6%, a rate approaching full employment, to which he gave a vague reply. Well, at that pace of 2.2% over 35 months, it will take until February 2015 — a dismal performance by any standard.