BLS Fail: Jobless Claims Number Doesn't Include California

BLS Fail: Jobless Claims Number Doesn't Include California

I didn’t buy into the idea last week that the Labor Department “cooked the books” on the September jobs report. If you were going to go to the trouble of fixing the numbers, wouldn’t you come up with good numbers for both parts of the report? The household survey, upon which the unemployment numbers is based, is historically very volatile. Its suggestion of 800k new jobs in the month is obviously an outlier. Even if you accept the number at face value, an oddly precise 2/3rds of these jobs were part-time. You don’t build a recovery on part-time jobs. 

But, today, I admit, I’m starting to wonder. This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that initial claims for unemployment benefits, i.e. jobless claims, fell a staggering 30k to 339k for the week. It’s the lowest level of claims since January 2008! Analysts had expected the number to remain essentially unchanged at around 370k, where it’s been pretty much for more than a year. 

The media, of course, swooned at the news. NPR bellowed the report through my car speakers this morning and I swear I could hear high-fiving in the background of their studio. You would think we’d posted double-digit growth in GDP for the way the media greeted the news. The long-stalled economic recovery had appeared on the horizon at preciously the moment Obama needed it to. 

Except, um, it turns out that number wasn’t right. They forgot to include CALIFORNIA, the most populous and economically depressed state in the country. A source at the Labor Department brushed aside the omission by saying that, sometimes, if a state office is under-manned they don’t complete all the jobless claims in time to report them to BLS. 

In other words, the dog ate their homework. 

I have long marveled at the slow-march disintegration of the once Golden State, but has the state really become so utterly dysfunctional that it can not process jobless claims in a timely fashion? 

More importantly, shouldn’t BLS have noted this somehow? Shouldn’t there have been a big neon asterisk at the top of their press release? Billions of dollars move in the market on reaction to these reports. Should we really have to wait hours into the trading day to find out the numbers don’t include the biggest state in the country?

It reminds me of the great Marion Barry line when he was Mayor of DC: crime in DC isn’t that bad if you don’t count the murders. 

So, we had the lowest number of jobless claims in over four years… if you don’t count the claims from the biggest state with one of the highest unemployment rates. 

I hadn’t realized that the Keystone Kops took over leadership at BLS. Very convenient that all these aberrations are potentially helpful to Obama. A bit too convenient. 

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