March 15, 2012

Wires Trumpet Unemployment Claims As Tying ’4-Year Low’; Historical Chances of Being Wrong After Revision Are 98%

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:03 pm

The exercise of watching the press report on the current week’s unemployment claims figure as if it’s etched in stone and assessing it as if it’s the last word — only to see the figure get upwardly revised the next week virtually without media comment — is getting extraordinarily tedious and predictable (but of course watching what they do remains necessary).

At the Associated Press, Bloomberg, and Reuters, this week’s version of the shell game has a relatively unique twist. The three wire services respectively and all without qualification say that today’s seasonally adjusted figure of 351,000 from the Department of Labor “matches a four-year low,” “the lowest level in four years,” and “back to a four-year low.” As seen in the graphic which follows, based on the history of the past year, there’s a 98% chance they will be wrong after subsequent revisions, almost all of which have occurred during the very next reported week:

Unemployment ClaimsRevs53wksEnded031012

In the past 53 reported weeks, the first reported figure for initial claims has been upwardly revised 52 times (i.e., 98.1% of the time; the only exception is highlighted), and by an average of about 3,800 claims. An average of over 3,600 of those write-ups has occurred the very next week.

But Christopher Rugaber at the AP, Alex Kowalski at Bloomberg, and a pair of reporters at Reuters (Lucia Mutikani and Leah Schnurr) all took advantage of their chance to cheerlead while they had it without telling readers what, based on the previous year’s history, is likely to happen next week.

Of the three, only Bloomberg mentioned that last week’s claims number was revised upward from 362,000 to 365,000.

Just another day in misleading, smiley-faced business reporting.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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