U.S. Jobless Claims Report Marred by Inaccuracy, Quirk

May 15, 2020

Washington (May 15)  A clerical error and a data-collection quirk brought significant distortions to the latest U.S. jobless claims report, which has taken on elevated importance as the coronavirus pandemic upends the labor market.

Connecticut said Thursday afternoon that it incorrectly reported unemployment claims as a whopping 298,680, about 10 times higher than the correct number of 29,846. The error likely inflated the U.S. Department of Labor’s reported national figure of 2.98 million, which exceeded economists’ median projection by almost half a million. In The News: #USDOL May 14 report shows CT with 298,680 initial UI claims filed. Correct number is 29,846. https://t.co/DMuHsZuCGt pic.twitter.com/86SPFzQT1M

— CT Dept. of Labor (@CTDOL) May 14, 2020 

The state’s figure had stood out in the report issued Thursday morning as anomalous because it was the highest in the nation, when Connecticut is one of the smallest states and posted 36,138 claims the prior week.

Nancy Steffens, a spokesperson for the state’s labor department, said in an email that it was a “data entry reporting error.”

A U.S. Labor Department spokesperson said in an email that the federal report’s figure for Connecticut initial claims matches what the state submitted. Any revisions will be reflected in the next release on May 21, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department’s continuing claims data were influenced by a staggering unadjusted 1.9 million decline in California -- the most populous state -- during the week ended May 2, or about a 40% drop from the prior week. Some 22.8 million continuing claims were reported by the federal government on a seasonally adjusted basis, well below the 25.1 million median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.

Economists are focused on continuing claims to provide insight into how quickly the labor market can stabilize and begin to improve as states begin opening from pandemic-related shutdowns.

In many states, a person who has already filed an initial application needs to file continued claims each week to receive funds while remaining unemployed. In California, residents file every two weeks. Other states use this method as well, but in the Golden State, surging unemployment and the biweekly cycle -- plus a much larger population -- have potentially combined to create outsize swings from week to week.

Pairing the data on continuing claims from alternating weeks in California shows a pattern of rising claims, consistent with the state’s biweekly filing schedule.


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