Alternative Seasonal Adjustments: The Economy Actually Added 211,000 Jobs Last Month, Not 175,000

Editor’s note: alternative seasonal adjustments will be published monthly on the Brookings on Job Numbers Blog. Posts have been published monthly starting in March 2014.  Read past editions: 4/145/146/147/148/149/1410/1411/1412/141/152/153/154/155/156/15, 7/15, 8/15, 9/15, 10/15, 11/15, 12/15, 1/16, 2/16, 3/16, 4/16, 5/166/16, 7/16, 8/16, 9/16, 10/16, 11/16, 12/16, 1/17, 2/17, 3/17, 4/17, 5/17, 6,17, 7,17, 8/17, 9/17, 10/17, 11/17, 12/17, 1/18

There are massive seasonal patterns in employment data. For example, in July, it is typical for the U.S. economy to lose over a million jobs. Adjusting for this normal seasonal variation is essential to interpreting month-to-month changes in employment. The approach for this seasonal adjustment that is presently used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) puts very heavy weight on the current and last two years of data in assessing what are the typical patterns for each month.

Jonathan Wright of Johns Hopkins University argues in “Unseasonal Seasonals?” that a longer window should be used to estimate seasonal effects. He finds that using a different seasonal filter, known as the 3×9 filter, produces better results and more accurate forecasts. The key difference in the 3×9 filter is that it spreads weight over the most recent six years in estimating seasonal patterns. This makes the seasonal patterns more stable over time than in the current BLS seasonal adjustment method.

On this website, we calculate the month-over-month change in total nonfarm payrolls, seasonally adjusted by the 3×9 filter, for the most recent month. The corresponding data as published by the BLS are shown for comparison purposes. According to Dr. Wright’s seasonal adjustments the economy gained 211 thousand jobs last month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy gained 175 thousand jobs last month. The discrepancies between the two series are explained in Dr. Wright’s BPEA paper.

Thousands of jobs added BLS Wright
2013-March 141 146
2013-April 203 216
2013-May 199 179
2013-June 201 182
2013-July 149 140
2013-August 202 208
2013-September 164 166
2013-October 237 229
2013-November 274 291
2013-December 84 96
2014-January 129 105
2014-February 175 211