Friday, March 4, 2011

Sloppy reporting and confirmation bias on full display with Jobs report

- by New Deal democrat

I will put up a detailed summary with updated graphs on Monday, but today really revealed what a sad piece of work most of the economic punditry in the blogosphere is.

Over at Balloon Juice, John Cole calls the report "moderately ok news", which is fine, but links to the following NY Times analysis:

While February’s number represented the fastest growth in nearly a year, it was partly the result of a bounce back from unusually depressed hiring in January, when winter weather shuttered offices and factories around the country. Taken together, the job growth for the first two months of the year has not been much better than it was last fall.
This is a quintessential example of the "disappointment syndrome" at work. The intial reports for January and February are being compared with the final reports from the fourth quarter of last year - when revisions to the intial numbers from October through December are over 100,000 jobs. As Bonddad has already pointed out, the first revision to January was also positive, and there is every reason to believe that the ultimate January - February numbers are going to be even better than they are now. In short, the trend of improving job reports that began late last summer is intact. The NY Times does some crappy reporting, but provides an excellent example of the Disappointment Syndrome.

Here are the initial and final monthly jobs numbers (in thousands) excluding census, showing total revisions, for the last quarter of 2010:

MonthInitialFinalnet change

In other words, from a paltry +98,000 as initially reported, the fourth quarter finally showed an average of +151,000 jobs added per month - enough to keep up with population growth.

Now here is that trend, averaging jobs by quarter:

QuarterAverage Job gain/loss
4Q 2009-135
1Q 2010+15
2Q 2010+97
3Q 2010+60
4Q 2010+151

So far this year the average is +130,000, but even with the first revision to January, +27,000 jobs were added to the initial reports. And oh by the way, the February reference period does not include the last two weeks of sub-400,000 initial jobless claims.

Over at Talk Left, Big Tent Democrat a/k/a Armando has recently been chugging Doomer Aid. He went on record a few weeks ago when we had one bad initial jobless claims report as saying the jobless claim trend hadn't been positive in a year. Both last week's 386,000 number and this week's 368,000 report went completely unacknowledged even though they eviscerate his argument, and did so again today:

Of course, we've been down this road before, a few good job reports followed by mostly bad reports. And with "austerity" the watchword in Washington and in state capitols, my personal view is this will be remembered as a blip. But today, this is good news.
As I've already shown above, that claim doesn't withstand scrutiny, at least not since the end of last summer. But what is really interesting here is the first two comments:

Sadly this isn't a good a jobs report since we need to create 250,000 a month to
even be keeping up the semblance of a recovery. It is a better figure than last
month, and that is now labeled a good jobs report. And the BLS
unemployment figure is mostly a specifically designed distortion of reality
these days.


I consider the Gallup figures on current unemployment at this time to be far more accurate than any unemployment figures the government is force feeding me.

(my emphasis)

Aside from the fact that we don't need 250,000 jobs a month to keep pace with the population growth in the age brackets of the workforce - more like 125,000 to 150,000 - the commenter is basically saying "I have a preconceived position. If the data goes against that position, it must be 'a distortion' or 'forcefeeding.' "

And of course, that position that data that conflicts with a pre-esisting narrative must be "fabricated" is on exceptionally florid display with the Pied Piper of Doom (no I won't link), who suddenly finds Paul Krugman untrustworthy (because Krugman is finally coming around to the point of view that the recovery is self-sustaining if Washington doesn't kill it). The Pied Piper didn't even wait for the report to come out before assuring his cultists that the jobs were crappy. (Funny, I thought we wanted manufacturing jobs, of which about 30,000 were created, not to mention that construction jobs in 2011 are actually going up for the first time in 6 years).

And the cultists all agree that any anecdotal evidence they see surely means that the BLS report is bogus, and unemployment must be over 20%, even though even U6 unemployment has fallen by over 1% in the last 4 months.

This in confirmation bias on full display. "I only pay attention to things I agree with." That is the sad state of affairs on blogs that now can only laughably call themselves "reality-based."