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Federal watchdog says Labor's jobless numbers inaccurate, points to pre-pandemic data collecting

The GAO report states policymakers are struggling to get accurate picture of unemployment as a result of the data collecting

Updated: December 1, 2020 - 2:10pm

A federal watchdog agency says the Labor Department’s closely-watched weekly unemployment numbers are inaccurate as a result of flawed data collection.

The findings were made by the Government Accountability Office and cited what it considers numerous inaccuracies in the department’s weekly report of the number of jobless Americans filing new applications for benefits and those receiving continuing claims, according to the Associated Press.

The GAO said in its report Monday that policymakers are struggling to get an accurate picture of unemployment amid the pandemic, as a result of the problems in data collection and reporting.

The report said the weekly data included overestimates and at other times underestimates of the number of people filing for unemployment benefits, the wire service also reports.

The GAO said the problem is that the Labor Department uses the number of people filing for claims in each state as a proxy for the number of people claiming benefits nationwide. However, that method has now resulted in inaccurate counts because of large backlogs in processing historic levels of claims and other data collection problems as a result of the pandemic.

GAO recommended that the Labor Department revise its weekly news releases to clarify that the numbers in the reports are not an accurate estimate.

The GAO also recommended that the department pursue other means to get more accurate readings on benefit applications such as using data collected by the states.

The GAO report said that the Labor Department had agreed to make revisions to its weekly news releases and agreed to pursue options for obtaining more accurate data from the states.

But the Labor Department balked at a recommendation that it seek state data going back to January 2020, contending that collecting back data would put too much of a burden on already strained state unemployment offices, the wire service also reports.