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Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. unemployment picture looks to be improving but it's increasingly being clouded by shoddy data, a problem that seems to be getting worse as the pandemic progresses.

What's happening: The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits rose to 29.2 million for the latest week of data, the Department of Labor announced Thursday.

  • But the increase of 2.2 million people to the rolls was largely the result of 2.3 million people being added to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program in just the state of California.
  • California's total PUA additions for one week nearly doubled its total number of recipients and accounted for one out of six people receiving PUA benefits nationwide.

Reality check: "The unemployment data are just incredibly problematic," Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist to the U.S. Secretary of Labor who now serves as senior economist and director of policy at EPI, tells Axios.

  • "When I talk about how bad these data are — and they are very bad — it’s all symptomatic of ... the fact that we have disinvested in our unemployment agencies for four decades and now we are expecting them to deal with thousandfold increases in demand for their services."
  • "We set them up to fail by not investing in them in a way that means we don’t have an agile system that can quickly absorb and be flexible to deal with something like this."

Between the lines: Shierholz adds that many of the nation's unemployment systems are running on a 60-year-old computer program known as COBOL that in addition to crashing, often over- and undercounts recipients.

The big picture: While the technology is a problem and the labor market is slowly improving, "we are still in a historically bad situation," Shierholz says.

  • "It’s just at absolute crisis levels. We are slowly crawling out of a hole, but it’s a giant hole."

Go deeper

A new gig economy playbook

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A victory by gig-economy companies in California to keep classifying their workers as contractors has given the industry a playbook to face rising labor movements nationwide.

Why it matters: The efforts to force the companies to treat their workers like full-time employees could annihilate their business models.

34 mins ago - World

In photos: Egypt unveils 3,000-year-old "lost golden city"

A view on Saturday of the city, dubbed "The Rise of Aten," dating to the reign of Amenhotep III, uncovered near Luxor. Photo: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

A top Egyptian archaeologist on Saturday outlined details of a newly rediscovered "lost golden city" near Luxor that dates back more than 3,000 years.

Why it matters: Zahi Hawass told NBC News the large ancient city, unveiled Thursday, tells archaeologists for the first time "about the life of the people during the Golden Age." Johns Hopkins University Egyptology professor Betsy Brian said in a statement it's "the second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamen."

1 dead as severe storms pummel the South

A tree that fell on a home carport damaged a vehicle during a storm in Central, Louisiana. No injuries were reported, according to Central Fire Department. Photo: Central Fire Department/Twitter

Strong storms lashed the South early Saturday, spawning at least one tornado and unleashing powerful winds and hail. And forecasters warned more severe weather was expected to hit parts of the region in the coming hours.

Details: Thousands of customers lost power in Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, according to tracking site poweroutage.us. An F3 tornado that hit St Landry Parish, Louisiana, killed one person and wounded seven others.