Monthly Job Numbers and the 'Margin of Error' Mystery

We've all seen the "margin of error" clearly disclosed in the barrage of political polls nearly every night on some news channel. Usually it's printed under the poll results and normally amounts to something like: a sample of 1000 adults was used with a margin of error +/- 3.5%. The margin of error on most of these polls is usually somewhere between +/- 1% to 6%, which, in most cases, means the poll is fairly accurate.

But did you know the monthly job numbers also has margin of error? That's right, the number of jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports each month is actually a survey - and it has a margin of error too, just like any other poll would.

Unfortunately, the BLS monthly job numbers' margin of error is never "disclosed" when the numbers are reported or shown on the news networks. Go ahead and see if you can find it or hear it mentioned today when the number is reported by all the news networks - I bet you can't. Now why do you suppose that is?

You won't ever see it disclosed because the dirty little secret is hidden in the BLS report under "The Employment Situation Technical Note." Just scroll down the page and find the heading "Reliability of the estimates" and start reading. There you will find some information that may be just as important as the actual monthly job's number itself. Did you find it yet? Are you shocked by the "margin of error" number?

That's right, the BLS margin of error for monthly job numbers is: +/- 100,000. 

After you read it several times it will begin to sink in - at that point you'll never look at the BLS monthly job's numbers the same again.

So today's number for May 2012 of 69,000 jobs carries with it this disclosure noted in the BLS report's The Employment Situation Technical Note regarding the margin of error of +/- 100,000:

"Since this range (-31,000 to 169,000) includes values of less than zero, we could not say with confidence that nonfarm employment had, in fact, increased that (this) month."

So because today's BLS job's number is below 100,000 (69,000) the BLS really has no "confidence" that "employment had, in fact, increased." Who would have known? Chances are, not you.

So there you have it, one more bit of information that has been successfully kept from you by the news media and a majority of political pundits.