Nov 8, 2021 - Economy

Pandemic jobs reports expose data collection flaws

<span style="color: #ff942f;">Initial</span> vs. <span style="color: #835bff;">final</span> reported number of jobs created each month
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Sometimes the initial picture is only half the story. The October jobs report, out Friday, included considerable revisions to the tally of new jobs created in August and September — enough to change how we view the economy’s progress through the peak of the Delta variant.

Why it matters: It’s a reminder to step back and let the whole picture take shape. Throughout the pandemic recovery — a time with absolutely no modern economic precedent — the imperfections of gathering complex data have become all the more stark.

How it works: Each month’s tally of new jobs created gets revised in the following month’s report, and again the month after that, for a total of two revisions.

  • The numbers are derived from surveys, the fallibility of which Axios' Felix Salmon spells out here.

By the numbers: So far this year, the initial jobs number undershot the final estimate in all but one month, with an average of 99,000 in additional jobs per month subsequently added.

  • In total, more than a million jobs have been added to the tally by way of revisions.

Context: In the more predictable 2019, the average total revisions per month amounted to just 10,000, noted the White House Council for Economic Advisers in a tweet on Friday.

The bottom line: The data so far this year imply it would be reasonable to expect October’s red hot job gains to get revised even higher — and for September’s number to receive another lift as well.

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