The science of unemployment claims has never been more heated. The reaction to this week's report has morphed from confusion to disbelief into an email war between the State of California and Henry Blodget.
To recap: After yesterday's surprisingly strong report on unemployment claims, speculation began that one of the 50 states had not reported its numbers, artificially lowering the count. Later in the day, Blodget—citing an anonymous source at the Department of Labor—wrote on his site, Business Insider, that every state did indeed submit its claims number, but that California's was unusually low, probably because of a backlog that prevented them processing all of the claims that were actually submitted last week. Fox Business News reported the same story, but piled on with assertion that the state has "a history of reporting 'volatile' numbers" and the Labor Department has frequently complained about their inaccurate results, to no avail.
After finding out about the post, the state issued an angry rebuttal, insisting that it did submit all its claims on time while demanding a retraction from Business Insider and anyone else who reported it. Their explanation for the lower number is that ... the number of people asking for unemployment benefits was really low. In other words, California is doing just fine, thank you very much.
The anger seems to stem from a different interpretation of Blodget's story then the one he intended. The state took the story to be an implication that California had failed to meet some sort of filing requirement, which if true, would be a big problem. Maybe even a crime. That isn't exactly what Blodget was saying—backlogs happen, and no harm, no foul—but he's standing by his source's claim that the state underrepresented its claims, whatever the reason might be.
The moral of the story is that the data people have been arguing about lately is pretty murky. Counting the number of jobs and unemployed people in a country this size is an inexact science at best, and even two smart people looking at the exact same numbers can come to different conclusions. (Even if California revises its number next week, that won't prove or disprove anything.) But whether Blodget's Labor Department source was wrong, lying, or just confused, nobody involved in this business wants to be seen as incompetent, or worse, corrupt. Otherwise, they might have to add themselves to the list of people looking for a new job.