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GAO: Weekly Unemployment Numbers Flawed

Government watchdog finds Labor Department has been providing an inaccurate reading
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 1, 2020 12:20 AM CST

(Newser) – A government watchdog has found that the Labor Department’s widely watched weekly unemployment benefits data are providing an inaccurate reading on the number of newly laid off workers because of flaws in the government’s data collection. The Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday that the Labor Department’s weekly report of the number of people filing new applications for unemployment benefits and those receiving continuing claims contained a number of inaccuracies, the AP reports. The GAO said the problems in data collection and reporting were making it hard for policymakers to get a reliable picture of what unemployment was doing during the pandemic. The report said the weekly data included overestimates and at other times underestimates of the number of people filing for unemployment benefits.

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GAO said the problem arose because the Labor Department was using the number of people filing for claims in each state as a proxy for the number of people claiming benefits nationwide. However, this has resulted in inaccurate counts because of large backlogs in processing historic levels of claims and other data collection problems. “Without an accurate accounting of the number of individuals who are relying on these benefits in as close to real time as possible, policymakers may be challenged to respond to the crisis at hand,” the GAO said in its report. GAO recommended that the Labor Department revise its weekly news releases to clarify that the numbers in the reports are not an accurate estimate of the number of individuals claiming benefits. The GAO also recommended that the department pursue other means to get more accurate readings on benefit applications such as using data collected by the states. (Click for more, including a recommendation the Labor Department balked at and a finding that some of the jobless may have been underpaid.)

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