Rosy Unemployment Data Largely a Result of Seasonal Adjustments

Political News

Seasonally adjusted jobless claims fell to a 50-year low last week. Initial unemployment claims fell to 199,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, beating expectations of 260,000 and marking a large drop from last week’s claims.

That’s good news, but it appears to be mostly a result of the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustments rather than a significant reduction in unemployment claims. In non-seasonally adjusted terms, claims rose to 259,000, up 18,000 from the week prior. The adjustment is not unwarranted or unexpected; the week before Thanksgiving tends to see a seasonal uptick in jobless claims. The size of this adjustment, however, looks unduly large when compared with previous years.

During the pandemic, the Department of Labor (DOL) changed its seasonal-adjustment methodology in response to elevated unemployment claims. Previously, DOL statisticians would multiply actual claims by a “seasonality factor.” For instance, unemployment claims tend to rise significantly at the beginning of a calendar year. Under the old methodology, DOL would take those elevated claims and remove, say, 30 percent as a seasonal adjustment.

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