Employment News – A Muddle Part 4

The government monthly “Employment Situation Report” from BLS on the first Friday isn’t the only game in town for understanding what’s happening to employment. There are alternative data series that makes the news that can help give us some idea of what’s happening in employment. None of these data series is as comprehensive or reliable as the BLS series, but they do offer alternative data for reasonableness.  After all, as we say in part 1 and part 2 of this series, the BLS data is far from straightforward and can often give fuzzy or contradictory signals.

In addition to the BLS series there is:

  • The ADP Private Sector Employment report. ADP is a private data processing company whose core business is processing payroll for thousands of companies in all types of businesses. Because of their large market share in this area, they are privy to exact counts of workers (payroll checks) each month.  They have models that extrapolate from their client firms to the entire private sector as a whole.  This data series is usually released on the Wednesday before the BLS release on first Firday. An example is report for January 2011 is here.
  • The  U.S. Department of Labor provides a weekly release of the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report. An example for last week is here. This is the sum of all the individual state unemployment claims data. Note: BLS monthly report is unrelated to any state-level unemployment compensation claims.  This report, while there is a Seasonally Adjusted series as well as NSA series, is notoriously “noisy”, meaning there’s a lot of variation from week-to-week. It is extremely sensitive to things like bad weather causing newly unemployed workers to wait until Monday to file instead of doing it on Friday. Nonetheless, looking at the 4-week moving average is sometimes helpful.  Here’s a graph of recent behavior in this series, courtesy of Calculated Risk:

The DOL reports on weekly unemployment insurance claims:

In the week ending Jan. 29, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 415,000, a decrease of 42,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 457,000. The 4-week moving average was 430,500, an increase of 1,000 from the previous week’s revised average of 429,500.

Weekly Unemployment ClaimsClick on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims for the last 10 years. The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased this week by 1,000 to 430,500

  • Finally, there’s a relative newcomer in town, the Gallup Poll series. Gallup, the famous polling organization has in recent years been conducting surveys of households to determine an unemployment rate.  The definitions and techniques are not strictly comparable to the BLS CPS survey each month, but it provides another checkpoint.  Here’s a recent example:

PRINCETON, NJ — Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, remained at 9.6% in mid-January, the same as at the end of December. This marks a one-percentage-point improvement from 10.6% in mid-January 2010.

Gallup's U.S. Unemployment Rate, January 2010-January 2011 Trend