Don't Bet The Bank On A New Year Surge In Unemployment

The Labor Dept. has warned that the jobless rate is likely to jump by half a percentage point in January. That's because government interviewers conducting the monthly household employment survey will start using a revised questionnaire that is more sensitive to the job status of women, and many women who were falsely presumed to be homemakers and out of the labor force will now be counted as unemployed.

Economist Charles Lieberman of Chemical Securities Inc. thinks the rise in the jobless rate won't occur, however. He notes that after the government began training its interviewers in the new question format several months ago, the jobless rate for women rose while the rate for men continued to decline. "There's a good chance," he says, "that interviewers unconsciously changed their perceptions after they learned that their current techniques are faulty. If that's the case, at least part of January's expected rise in unemployment has already occurred." Labor Dept. officials, however, pooh-pooh this possibility.

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