Jobless numbers: Something doesn’t add up

When Sen. Dean Heller issued a press release Friday saying, “It is good to see any improvement in the nation’s unemployment rate,” I fired off an email to one of his aides suggesting the senator read The Wall Street Journal instead of The New York Times. Both had sent out news flashes about Friday morning’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the unemployment rate. Only the WSJ’s emphasized that the tick down in the jobless rate from 8.3 percent to 8.2 was due entirely to people exiting the labor force and not to any real increase in employment.

I spent some time Saturday poring over the BLS numbers, and, frankly, they don’t make any sense.

“Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 120,000 in March, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today,” the BLS release began.

But if you look at the chart, Table A, accompanying the release, the seasonally adjusted one, it shows total employment fell 31,000.

Table A from BLS

And the total for people not in the labor force rose 333,000, though the population rose only 169,000. Yes, the employed fell 133,000, but, as the WSJ editorial Saturday explained, that was due to the 164,000 exiting the labor force, even if you took that 120,000 added jobs number that appears out of nowhere in the release.

Now, if you look at the numbers before that seasonal adjustment, Table A-1, the picture gets really murky. As I pointed out in an earlier blog, the adjustment formula may be a problem.

According to that table, non-adjusted employment shot up more than 700,000, instead of falling 31,000, while the number of unemployed fell more than 500,000, instead of 133,000. The number who want a job fell more than 300,000 in the non-adjusted chart, instead of 79,000 when adjusted.

As the founding father of Nevada journalism, Mark Twain, once observed:

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’”

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4 comments on “Jobless numbers: Something doesn’t add up

  1. Steve says:

    Saw a report on tv the other day, the warm winter may have been a contributor to the current slack in springtime jobs. All the normal projects that would occur as the weather warmed up were completed very early this year.

    Even retail jobs are hard to get today.

  2. Steve says:

    Another one of the great ones has left us. Rest in Peace Mike Wallace, you gave it your all.

  3. Athos says:

    He left a son, Steve. The legacy and name continue on.

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