Oct 9, 2020 - Economy & Business

As job losses continue, doubts are rising about unemployment data

Data: U.S. Department of Labor; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: U.S. Department of Labor; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than 25.5 million people were collecting unemployment benefits as of mid-September, and nearly 1.3 million people filed first-time jobless claims last week — more than 800,000 for traditional unemployment and 464,000 for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

The state of play: That number excluded any new claims from the largest state in the country, California, which paused its program to implement fraud prevention technology and comb through a backlog of claims that had reached nearly 600,000 and was growing by 10,000 a day.

The big picture: California isn't the only place where issues with unemployment claims are rising.

  • The persistently high number of claims drive an uneasy contrast with the continued decline in the unemployment rate and improving numbers on the Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey to the point that University of Oregon economist Tim Duy says, "We should be more skeptical about the initial claims data."
  • "The claims data lets you view the current environment as a repeat of the last recovery," Duy writes in his Fed Watch blog.
  • "If the claims data is deeply corrupted, the conventional wisdom is just plain wrong. I keep saying the same thing: This isn’t the 2007-09 recession or the 2009-2020 recovery. It’s something different."
Go deeper