Business Employment Dynamics & NFP

Saturday, May 26, 2007 | 08:44 AM

On Thursday, we discussed another employment measure, assembled from the quarterly census of state unemployment insurance records.

This measure is discussed in much greater detail this week in the Liscio Report, via Barron's Alan Abelson:

"UNLESS THE WORLD IMPLODES BEFORE THEN, this Friday the Bureau of Labor Statistics is slated to release May's employment report. As the big day approaches, Wall Street, as it always does, will indulge in an orgy of guesswork as to what the numbers will be. That this is destined to prove an exercise in futility will not deter for a moment the participants from repeating it a month hence.

Actually, these cockeyed Nostradamuses are more deserving of sympathy than contempt. For apart from their own fallibility -- which, since so many are card-carrying economists, is considerable -- their prophecies are prey to the even more considerable whims, quirks and fantasies of Uncle Sam's data assemblers.

Just how much such idiosyncracies distort the actual count of the gainfully employed and, by extension, of those out of work, is hard to pin down to the last decimal. But that it can be huge is evident in another report issued last week by that same Bureau of Labor Statistics (which might better be called the Bureau of Labored Statistics). It's called Business Employment Dynamics, and we'd been in blissful ignorance of its existence until enlightened by that diligent duo, Philippa Dunne and Doug Henwood, responsible for the Liscio Report.

As Philippa and Doug explain, this series reports detailed gross job gains and losses in the private sector based on nearly complete coverage "of the employment universe provided by the unemployment insurance system." More painstaking than the familiar monthly surveys of employment, the tally is published with a lag of several quarters; the one released earlier this month, for example, was for the third quarter of 2006. What it showed, though, was eye-opening.

Thus, compared with a gain for the quarter of 442,000 jobs reported in the so-called establishment survey, the Business Employment Dynamics, or BED, reckoning was a scant 19,000 additions. In manufacturing, the 9,000 jobs lost according to the payroll figures balloon into a loss of 95,000 jobs in the BED data; the improbable 20,000 additions in construction (think: housing) turns into a loss of 77,000 by BED's measure; the 507,000 gain in private services shrinks to 108,00. And so it goes. Or, more accurately, so goes the job mirage.

One likely culprit, Philippa and Doug suggest, is that curious concoction known as the "birth/death" model used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate the gains/losses in jobs from the launching and demise of businesses. Thanks to this voodoo calculation, 156,000 were added in last year's third quarter and a hefty 388,000 in the opening four months of this year. Nice going, indeed, considering that first-quarter GDP growth probably, when the dust clears, will have fallen below 1%, and April was a punk month.

All of which, among other things, solves a puzzle that seems to have bothered quite a few people: namely, how can the economy be running out of steam when there's relatively little unemployment? The answer, pure and simple, is that there are significantly fewer folks working and significantly more folks out of a job than the official payroll numbers would have you believe. The next time someone assures you that the employment picture is bright, make sure he smiles when he says that. (emphasis added)

As we have laboriously argued over the past few years, this has not been a great post-recession cycle for private sector job creation. It has been a boom time, however, for creative accounting in government measurements. 

The bottom line: New job creation has been mediocre, and wildly overstated by BLS since changes made to measuring jobs in 2001.



Swarm of Analysts
Barron's MONDAY, MAY 28, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007 | 08:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack (2) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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» April housing statistics, up, down, what's going on? from Charleston Real Estate Blog
New home sales, sales up, prices down. Existing home sales, sales down, inventory up, prices ? So what [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2007 12:31:33 PM

» Reconciling the BED, CES, and birth/death employment data from Econbrowser
There has been some discussion recently about discrepancies between different government estimates of the state of the labor market. Although a legitimate issue has been raised, there has also been a bit of misunderstanding. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2007 9:20:31 AM


Information has been replaced with spin; as wealth has become more concentrated, power has become more concentrated; truth has been replaced by agenda.

There is only one thing left to do. Get up right now, open your window, stick our your head and yell at the top of your lungs, "I"m mad a hell and I'm not going yo take it anymore!"

Posted by: Winston Munn | May 26, 2007 9:20:33 AM

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