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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Bad Data Warped the Picture of the Jobs Recovery

Matt O'Brien:

How Bad Data Warped Everything We Thought We Knew About the Jobs Recovery: You know something is really boring when economists say it is.
That's what I thought to myself when the economists at the Brookings Institution's Panel on Economic Activity said only the "serious" ones would stick around for the last paper on seasonal adjustmentzzzzzzz...
... but a funny thing happened on the way to catching up on sleep. It turns out seasonal adjustments are really interesting! They explain why, ever since Lehmangeddon, the economy has looked like it's speeding up in the winter and slowing down in the summer.
In other words, everything you've read about "Recovery Winter" the past few winters has just been a statistical artifact of naïve seasonal adjustments. Oops. ...
The BLS only looks at the past 3 years to figure out what a "typical" September (or October or November, etc.) looks like. So, if there's, say, a once-in-three-generations financial crisis in the fall, it could throw off the seasonal adjustments for quite awhile. Which is, of course, exactly what happened. ...
And that messed things up for years. Because the BLS's model thought the job losses from the financial crisis were just from winter, it thought those kind of job losses would happen every winter. And, like any good seasonal model, it tried to smooth them out. So it added jobs it shouldn't have to future winters to make up for what it expected would be big seasonal job losses. And it subtracted jobs it shouldn't have from the summer to do so. ...
Now, the one bit of good news here is this effect has already faded away for the most part. Remember, the BLS only looks back at the past 3 years of data when it comes up with its seasonal adjustments -- so the Lehman panic has fallen out of the sample.
Here are two words we should retire: Recovery Winter. It was never a thing. The economy wasn't actually accelerating when the days got shorter, nor was it decelerating when the days got longer. ... The BLS can, and should, do better.

    Posted by on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 10:19 AM in Economics, Methodology, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (37)

          


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