BLS to add new category to unemployment measurements

posted at 11:03 am on December 29, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

The Great Recession has changed the nature of joblessness so much that the Bureau of Labor Statistics will add a new category to its surveys in order to provide data on long-term unemployment.  Thanks to an “unprecedented rise” in long-term joblessness, the survey will now count people unemployed for more that 260 weeks, rather than just the 99 weeks which had been the upper limit on its survey forms:

The change is a sign that bureau officials “are afraid that a cap of two years may be ‘understating the true average duration’ — but they won’t know by how much until they raise the upper limit,” says Linda Barrington, an economist who directs the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University‘s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Likening recessionary unemployment spikes in recent decades to a storm at sea, she says, “The waves are getting higher, and we want to understand the intricacies of how they’re made up.”

The change involves the form used for the bureau’s Current Population Survey, based on interviews with thousands of the unemployed. Currently, no matter how much longer than two years someone has been out of work, the form allows interviewers to check off only “99 weeks or over.” Starting next month, jobless stints of “260 weeks and over” can be selected on the response form.

“The BLS doesn’t make such changes lightly,” Barrington says. Stacey Standish, a bureau assistant press officer, says the two-year limit has been used for 33 years.

A two-year limit hampers economists’ ability to compare this recession’s effect on the job market with another severe one in the early 1980s, Barrington says.

That may still be problematic.  The BLS didn’t tally a 260-week-plus category back then either, so the comparison today is actually more consistent than it will be with a newly-added category.  In order to compare across time periods with this new category, the BLS will have to rely on secondary sources to determine how many people were unemployed five years or longer in earlier recessions, as they do now.

Adding the category now will build benchmarks for future comparisons, though, and that will be important if we go through a cycle like this again.  It will also inform on the efficacy of policies in the present aimed at curtailing the long-term joblessness that threatens to create a permanent underclass, as well as give more data on the nature of long-term joblessness.

But still, one has to wonder whether this change will still get the BLS what it seeks.  The problem is that one cannot accurately determine the average length of unemployment when capping the response at 99 weeks.  Extending the cap to 260 weeks really doesn’t solve that problem, either.  In fact, talking about average length of joblessness when forcing people into broad categories is really a data type mismatch that makes claims like “the average length of unemployment has increased from 29.4 weeks in November 2009 to 34.5 weeks last month” entirely suspect.  The BLS should be collecting specific lengths of joblessness in order to determine averages and trends, not check boxes for categories.  Why not just ask each respondent for the specific number of weeks he or she has been unemployed, or simply ask for the last date of employment, and let the computers determine the actual averages?

Update: I should have noted that this change will have no effect on the traditional unemployment rate reporting.


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So will this add to the unemployment percentage or merely spread it out and lower the number?

portlandon on December 29, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Why not just ask each respondent for the specific number of weeks he or she has been unemployed, or simply ask for the last date of employment, and let the computers determine the actual averages?

Exactly. As someone who loves data it pains me to think of all the effort going into this data collection that’s being wasted by asking the wrong question up front. Bucketing should happen *after* the data is in, not while collecting it.

SoRight on December 29, 2010 at 11:07 AM

Moving the goalposts.

BobMbx on December 29, 2010 at 11:09 AM

Maynard G. Krebs would be proud.

50sGuy on December 29, 2010 at 11:11 AM

U-6 data won’t work?

humna humna humna humna humna (Ralph Kramden)

Skandia Recluse on December 29, 2010 at 11:13 AM

A two-year limit hampers economists’ ability to compare this recession’s effect on the job market with another severe one in the early 1980s, Barrington says.

We should expect more from economists than from weathermen. When the weathermen get it wrong, you’re picnic gets wet. When economists get it wrong…….

And they, all of them, got it wrong.

BobMbx on December 29, 2010 at 11:13 AM

Potemkin statistics.

But hey, if they can lower the (appearance of) unemplyment, that will be a big success for Barry 0. Recovery Summer II coming right up!

iurockhead on December 29, 2010 at 11:13 AM

Adding the category now will build benchmarks for future comparisons, though, and that will be important if we go through a cycle like this again.

Is America going to continue to elect liberals to office in the future? Unfortunately they will be elected, so yes, we will need this category for the future.

CBP on December 29, 2010 at 11:16 AM

The new normal.

Smell that hopenchange America? The BLS wants to know how the effect of its boot (WH policies) are doing on the neck of America (LT unemployment).

there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics….

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:16 AM

Yay, change!

rbj on December 29, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Thanks to an “unprecedented rise” in long-term joblessness, the survey will now count people unemployed for more that 260 weeks, rather than just the 99 weeks which had been the upper limit on its survey forms

so, they take categorical data (duration of unemployment) and ratchet it downward into categorical data (99, 260wks +, etc.). All that they need to do is collect the total weeks that the individual has been UE, and then recategorize it later when they analyze it. Hell, even a law student could probably figure that one out…..er, wait.

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:20 AM

This just shows the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ confirmation bias.
-crr6

rogerb on December 29, 2010 at 11:20 AM

er, wait.

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:20 AM

You expect entirely too much from crr6!

upinak on December 29, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Exactly. As someone who loves data it pains me to think of all the effort going into this data collection that’s being wasted by asking the wrong question up front. Bucketing should happen *after* the data is in, not while collecting it.

SoRight on December 29, 2010 at 11:07 AM

you betcha. I agree. SPSS or other stat software can categorize the variable of unemployment for you from the raw data (total UE weeks). Apparently, the BLS thinks that the unemployed are stupid and can’t adequately compute their own time of being unemployed so they have them shoot from the hip and try to categorize it up front.

smart power/

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:22 AM

“The BLS doesn’t make such changes lightly,” Barrington says. Stacey Standish, a bureau assistant press officer, says the two-year limit has been used for 33 years.

nor frequently for that matter….

change.

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:24 AM

Does this affect the UNDERemployment rate and how it is reported?

Indy82 on December 29, 2010 at 11:25 AM

Now that the BLS has added a new category, will they need more employees to keep up with all the new statistics? If they do I know which list they should be drawing from.

Tommy_G on December 29, 2010 at 11:31 AM

Funny how that “unprecedented rise” in UE duration coincides with the unprecedented rise in duration of UE benefits.

PattyJ on December 29, 2010 at 11:31 AM

And for finding a new way to report un-employment statistics that make The One look better, all BLS employees have been awarded a double ration of Choco.

BobMbx on December 29, 2010 at 11:32 AM

Update: I should have noted that this change will have no effect on the traditional unemployment rate reporting.

Maybe they should add a new longer term category to that lil’ number too. “Normal=>24 mos at >8% unemployment rate“…

change

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:32 AM

The Ministry of Truth has spoken….all Hail.

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:33 AM

Next they will extend unemployment benefits to 280 weeks, so the poor people in that category won’t starve to death.

txdoc on December 29, 2010 at 11:42 AM

They’ve made it to 99 weeks of unemployment comp. Does this mean the libs’ new target will be 260 weeks?

Dee2008 on December 29, 2010 at 11:45 AM

txdoc on December 29, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Great minds, heh.

Dee2008 on December 29, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Why not just ask each respondent for the specific number of weeks he or she has been unemployed, or simply ask for the last date of employment, and let the computers determine the actual averages?

WTF???? They don’t already ask this? Them gubmint people are smrt.

rockhead on December 29, 2010 at 11:47 AM

Light years? That’s a measure of distance not time. C’mon, Ed.

SwampYankee on December 29, 2010 at 11:53 AM

I see we are reaching forward. If we can get benefits to extend to 70 years, we will reach that nirvana of employment called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

percysunshine on December 29, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Wait, how is this making Bams look good? Aren’t they just adding another category rather than changing the prior one?

PattyJ on December 29, 2010 at 11:55 AM

WTF???? They don’t already ask this? Them gubmint people are smrt.

rockhead on December 29, 2010 at 11:47 AM

apparently not. If they did, there’d be no need for a “new category.”

reminds me of the spaceballs speed control settings…instead of ludicrous speed, we have ludicrous length of unemployment time…!

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 11:56 AM

I wonder if unemployment benefits really has made this last longer. I’ve learned not to piss on others choices.

tomas on December 29, 2010 at 11:59 AM

It’s so the current administration can take the numbers and say “See! These people lost their jobs under that evil previous adminstration!”

As to Light Years and Distacne/Time, maybe Ed’s trying to make the Kessel Run?

The_Livewire on December 29, 2010 at 12:02 PM

“Why not just ask each respondent for the specific number of weeks he or she has been unemployed, or simply ask for the last date of employment, and let the computers determine the actual averages?”

Just as the CBO was supplied with numbers to suit the liberal’s “marking up” of the health care bill, so will the motives of the BLS be explained. I would be surprised to see an Obama government agency supply simple numbers to evaluate the unemployment status. At this point, (after the current aggressions of the FCC and the EPA), the BLS’s “sudden urgency” to feel compelled to revise their data raises red flags IMO.

Rovin on December 29, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Light years? That’s a measure of distance not time. C’mon, Ed.

Yeah, I know, but give me a Star Wars reference and I just can’t resist.

Ed Morrissey on December 29, 2010 at 12:03 PM

If any of these unemployed go any longer, we’ll have to stop using a calendar to measure the elapsed time and start using Carbon-14 dating methods…..

science.

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 12:05 PM

After 0 has tried to duplicate FDR in deallng with a recession, how much longer will it take the FDR worshippers to realize recessions continue as long as government tries to meddle and control everything? 0 didn’t want to return to the “failed policies of the past 10 years”, he wanted to leap back 80 years.

Oleta on December 29, 2010 at 12:05 PM

I see we are reaching forward. If we can get benefits to extend to 70 years, we will reach that nirvana of employment called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

percysunshine on December 29, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Yeah, but sadly its not enough to just give people all their lifes needs, they have to crush that percentage, that group of free spirits, who will not rest on their laurels all day, day in and day out. That group of people who love to do stuff, make things, think up stuff.

No, they have to crush freedom to achieve that.

As someone posted “Utopia is hard.”

orbitalair on December 29, 2010 at 12:07 PM

0 didn’t want to return to the “failed policies of the past 10 years”, he wanted to leap back 80 years.

Oleta on December 29, 2010 at 12:05 PM

a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away….

ted c on December 29, 2010 at 12:07 PM

I guess these bureaucracies(sp?)have to justify their existance some how.

jeanie on December 29, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Are you effing kidding me? 260 weeks and you can’t find a McDonald’s that’s hiring?

angryed on December 29, 2010 at 12:15 PM

The BLS should be collecting specific lengths of joblessness in order to determine averages and trends, not check boxes for categories. Why not just ask each respondent for the specific number of weeks he or she has been unemployed, or simply ask for the last date of employment, and let the computers determine the actual averages?

Ed, remember who you’re expecting to be sensible here.

flataffect on December 29, 2010 at 12:22 PM

I sure hope the BLS accounts for Al Gore’s sunspots. Oh, wait……..

Rovin on December 29, 2010 at 12:26 PM

Tipper and Ah know that Extended Unemployment, no matter what the guvernment says is due to Global Warming….erh…Climate Change…erh…..uhhhh…did Ah mention that Ah invented the global intree-net superhahway?

Vntnrse on December 29, 2010 at 12:50 PM

Categories.. We need more categories.

That’s a lot easier than increasing production and actually creating jobs.

franksalterego on December 29, 2010 at 12:58 PM

This has been up nearly two hours and nobody has figured out the real reason why 5-year unemployment is now being tracked…

It’s another way for Teh Won to scream, “Booooooooooosh’s fault!”

steveegg on December 29, 2010 at 1:00 PM

I sleep a lot better at night,

knowing, these academics are right on top of things.

franksalterego on December 29, 2010 at 1:06 PM

Maynard G. Krebs would be proud.

50sGuy on December 29, 2010 at 11:11 AM

..fantastic reach into the past for ultra-appropriate reference! I am impressed!

The War Planner on December 29, 2010 at 1:10 PM

This has been up nearly two hours and nobody has figured out the real reason why 5-year unemployment is now being tracked…

It’s another way for Teh Won to scream, “Booooooooooosh’s fault!”

steveegg on December 29, 2010 at 1:00 PM

..I hear they’re also going to add two categories: “Unexpected Unemployment” and “Jobs Saved or Created”.

The War Planner on December 29, 2010 at 1:14 PM

the survey will now count people unemployed for more that 260 weeks

Guess this is so that ‘the best administration, evah!’ can keep track of “the new normal”.

GarandFan on December 29, 2010 at 1:15 PM

One of Obama’s priorities is to raise the minimum wage to $9.50/hr next year.

That should help. /

cntrlfrk on December 29, 2010 at 1:21 PM

It makes me nervous that this administration suddenly desires to count the long term unemployed. What nefarious plan are they hatching?

You know they’ve gotta be up to something. After all they’ve spent two years doing their level best to DENY the actual number of people without work.

How many times has ODumbAss made a speech about all the new jobs he’s saved or created? (Especially in nonexistent places!)

dogsoldier on December 29, 2010 at 1:35 PM

Minimum wage the number one job killer in America. It hurt the poor the most and make people poorer.

jdun on December 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM

Minimum wage the number one job killer in America. It hurt the poor the most and make people poorer.

jdun on December 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM

Unless, of course, they work for a union.

steveegg on December 29, 2010 at 1:42 PM

No one is pushing God away by allowing a single group to attend in a sea of other groups. There are religious groups there.

http://www.conservative.org/cpac/participatingorganizations/

Americans United for Life
Hassan Family and Muslims for America
American Society for the Defense of Family, Tradition, and Property
Claire Boothe Luce (a socially conservative women’s group)
Christians United for Israel
Conservative Party of America (anti gay marriage)

Come on people.

I’ll quote myself

blatantblue on December 29, 2010 at 11:38 AM

Cindy Munford on December 29, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Sorry wrong thread.

Cindy Munford on December 29, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Why don’t we just stop worrying about the employment status of other folks? I’m starting to think every government department should be closed, and a sign put on their door that says “you’re a grownup, fix it yourself.”

Government tracking employment implies that government can do something to employ people. But Uncle Sam is pretty helpless in that regard, especially once government is shrunk back down to a more appropriate size.

Let’s scrap unemployment benefits and replace them with a system where people who can’t find jobs get paid to do stuff: pick up trash, shovel snow, leaf collection, deliver mail, change street signs, take job training courses, etc. Make their work load harsh enough that they have an incentive to find other employment.

hawksruleva on December 29, 2010 at 2:18 PM

One of Obama’s priorities is to raise the minimum wage to $9.50/hr next year.

That should help. /

cntrlfrk on December 29, 2010 at 1:21 PM

I hope the GOPs next candidate spends a week running on liberal policies. Why stop at $9.50 an hour? Let’s give everyone in America $100,000 salaries with guaranteed pensions. Then see what the media says about those policy ideas. I challenge Sarah Palin to spend the 1st week of April this year on this sort of theme.

hawksruleva on December 29, 2010 at 2:20 PM

how many people were unemployed five years or longer in earlier recessions, as they do now.

Um. Please excuse me for asking, but can you actually show me how you can be unemployed five years or longer during any recession? Recessions dont last five years my friend.

That being said, our government has claimed that we are out of recession for some time now have they not? Of course they are out of touch with reality on the street. I dont care what the eco growth number is, its the Jobs number that defines recession for me, and until that number get below 7, we are in a recession.

Prediction. If gas and energy pries continue to rise, even in the absence of a cap and trade scheme, then this once great country is doomed. This government is appeasing a liberal environmental cult by road blocking domestic oil production, while at the same time allowing our enemies the likes of Chavez, Iran, etc to get maximum dollars per barrel of oil. At the same time, the ever rising prices at the pump are going to choke hold this economy as families pull back even more simply because the petro costs are taking all of our expendable income as they effect every product form raw materials to deliveries. It is the main driver of inflation across the board and our very own president is enabling it. Its a double headed monster causing inflation and killing jobs at the same time. These f*&ckers dont get it.

CriticalUpdate on December 29, 2010 at 2:50 PM

“Unemployment Insurance” is a foolish scheme which taxes employers who do NOT lay off employees in order to subsidize employers who DO lay off employees.

This just encourages unemployment, and penalizes employment.

This is a hidden tax (because it does not appear on pay stubs) which can easily amount to 5-7% of total payroll in times like these!!!

The only people who can possibly think this is a good idea are people who would drill a hole in the hull of a sinking ship!!!

landlines on December 29, 2010 at 4:20 PM

Light year is a rate. It is displacement over time.

Inanemergencydial on December 29, 2010 at 4:53 PM

A light year is distance, period. And yes, we have achieved ludicrous unemployment compensation, for which the recipients must all wear plaid.

Freelancer on December 29, 2010 at 7:50 PM

Hmmm… is this just another way for them to “blame Bush?”

Logic on December 30, 2010 at 9:17 AM