Another Misleading Unemployment Statistic

Jonathan David Carson
One of my favorite nonsense statistics is the number of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits. The government compiles it, the press reports it, and the stock market goes up or down. Zillions of dollars zoom from one person's hand to another's based on this absurd number.

It's embarrassing to have to point this out, but you can't lose a job you don't have. So as more people lose work, fewer jobs are left to lose. If everyone were unemployed, no one could become unemployed, the Department of Labor would calculate that the number of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits had fallen to zero, and the stock market would resemble the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Not only must you have a job to lose one, eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits also depends upon having sufficient "base period wages." Even if you had a job to lose, you must have held it or other jobs for a sufficiently long period of time to establish monetary eligibility. In recent years, so many people have been unemployed for so long that even if they find work again and lose it, they may nonetheless be ineligible for benefits, and it would be pointless for them to apply.

In short, a fall in the number of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits can be consistent with a worsening job market -- and is. 

One of my favorite nonsense statistics is the number of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits. The government compiles it, the press reports it, and the stock market goes up or down. Zillions of dollars zoom from one person's hand to another's based on this absurd number.

It's embarrassing to have to point this out, but you can't lose a job you don't have. So as more people lose work, fewer jobs are left to lose. If everyone were unemployed, no one could become unemployed, the Department of Labor would calculate that the number of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits had fallen to zero, and the stock market would resemble the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Not only must you have a job to lose one, eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits also depends upon having sufficient "base period wages." Even if you had a job to lose, you must have held it or other jobs for a sufficiently long period of time to establish monetary eligibility. In recent years, so many people have been unemployed for so long that even if they find work again and lose it, they may nonetheless be ineligible for benefits, and it would be pointless for them to apply.

In short, a fall in the number of first-time applications for unemployment insurance benefits can be consistent with a worsening job market -- and is.