Speed Reads

statistical fluke

Was the January jobs report really that good?

It appears the U.S. economy didn't dodge the Omicron bullet after all.

The Labor Department's jobs report, which was released Friday, showed that the U.S. economy added 467,000 jobs in January and that the unemployment rate increased only slightly to 4.0 percent.

Several outlets hailed these numbers as a pleasant and unexpected surprise after many experts predicted a downturn due to Omicron. Politico called the report "phenomenal." The Democratic Party hailed it as evidence of "the Biden Boom." Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao wrote that the report "signals that the job market recovery is plowing forward, despite Omicron headwinds."

But was it? According to Matt Yglesias' Slow Boring newsletter, not really.

"One natural interpretation of these numbers is that the fears of an Omicron impact on the economy were wrong. But this is incorrect," Yglesias wrote.

"January happens to be the month when the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] does an annual update of some of its models," he continued. "With updated [census] data, they're able to generate new and better estimates. The January jobs gains came entirely from these changes."

Without the adjustment for new census data, the economy actually lost jobs between December 2021 and January 2022. Thanks to the adjustment, gains that actually took place in previous months showed up in January's report.

"That doesn't mean the jobs aren't real," Yglesias wrote. "But they are jobs we had all along. Using consistent household survey data, employment fell in January … for precisely the reason the Biden administration was worried it would fall: lots of people missed work because they were sick" with Omicron.

Axios reported Tuesday that over "1 million men surged into the job market last month … compared to just 39,000 women," a conclusion Yglesias also disputed.

"[I]t's not that a ton of men newly entered the labor force, a bunch of working age men who'd been around all along got counted correctly," he tweeted.