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Why are there revisions to jobs numbers?

July 29, 2013

At the beginning of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the change in payroll employment for the previous month. When the estimate is revised in subsequent months, however, data users sometimes perceive a very different picture of the job market than what was initially reported. Why is the initial estimate revised? The revised estimate includes additional information that was not available at the time of the initial release, making the revised estimate more accurate.

Differences between the initial and revised estimates generally indicate that the employment change that occurred at the businesses that had not initially reported was different than the change that occurred at the businesses that had initially reported. For example, if less employment growth occurred among those who had not reported at the time of the first estimate, the initial estimate would be revised down. If more growth occurred among the late responders, the initial estimate would be revised up.

Over-the-month change in employment by closing date of the first, second, and third releases of BLS data, seasonally adjusted, January-December 2012

Over-the-month change in employment by closing date of the first, second, and third releases of BLS data, seasonally adjusted, January—December 2012
MonthSeasonally adjusted
Over-the-month changeRevision in over-the-month change
1st release2nd release3rd release2nd - 1st release3rd - 2nd release3rd - 1st release

January 2012

243,000284,000275,00041,000-9,00032,000

February 2012

227,000240,000259,00013,00019,00032,000

March 2012

120,000154,000143,00034,000-11,00023,000

April 2012

115,00077,00068,000-38,000-9,000-47,000

May 2012

69,00077,00087,0008,00010,00018,000

June 2012

80,00064,00045,000-16,000-19,000-35,000

July 2012

163,000141,000181,000-22,00040,00018,000

August 2012

96,000142,000192,00046,00050,00096,000

September 2012

114,000148,000132,00034,000-16,00018,000

October 2012

171,000138,000137,000-33,000-1,000-34,000

November 2012

146,000161,000247,00015,00086,000101,000

December 2012

155,000196,000219,00041,00023,00064,000

So why doesn’t BLS wait until it has all the reports to make the estimate and avoid revisions? Users of the data are intensely interested in the earliest possible read on labor market developments, and experience suggests that the initial estimate is generally very good. For example, in 2012, the average monthly employment change using the first estimate would have been +142,000, compared with a monthly average change of +165,000 using the third estimate. Nevertheless, it is true that in some months, revisions are large enough that they change the users’ perspectives on the current state of the economy. In November 2012, for example, the initial estimate of over-the-month change was +146,000, while the third estimate was +247,000.

These data are from the Current Employment Statistics Survey. To learn more, see “Why are there revisions to the jobs numbers?” (HTML) (PDF), by Thomas Nardone, Kenneth Robertson, and Julie Hatch Maxfield, Beyond the Numbers, July 2013.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Editor's Desk, Why are there revisions to jobs numbers? on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2013/ted_20130729.htm (visited September 01, 2014).

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