An economy that you can't measure in real time

bls.jpgThis has been an irritant of mine for years: The obsessive coverage of monthly employment reports (and more recently the weekly jobless claims data). These numbers are routinely picked apart - good news, bad news, whatever - despite the fact that they are merely estimates of the jobs situation. They frequently get revised over the months - even years - as more information becomes available or gets clarified. Here's the deal: You cannot figure out the economy on a real-time basis. Oh, you can draw general outlines of what's going on, especially when the times are not turbulent, but outright declarations are a fool's errand. Of course, by the time the numbers get revised, as with today's government report on job creation for the 12 months ended in March, the coverage is barely noticeable. The report shows that an additional 386,000 jobs were created during that period, which works out to a monthly average of 194,000 and not 162,000. A significant difference. Revisions can work the other way, too - in 2009, the economy lost 902,000 more jobs than initially reported. From the Washington Post:

Economist Justin Wolfers wonders why these revisions aren't generating nearly as much fanfare. "Amazing how much attention a 30k miss on a monthly jobs number gets," he writes, "and how little follows when 386k more jobs are found in a re-benchmark." Wolfers adds that this revision may help explain why the unemployment rate has mysteriously kept nudging downward despite the apparently weak jobs growth.

Let's be clear: Even with the revisions, this is a painfully slow recovery. But it's less slow than we were led to believe.

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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