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Opinion
Justin Wolfers

Labor Department's Bumbling Bureaucrats Can't Count

 Bad statistics undermine the credibility of good statistics. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor has been releasing bad statistics.

Bad statistics are worse than useless, they're harmful. Bad statistics mislead. And bad statistics undermine the credibility of good statistics. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor has been releasing bad statistics.

This morning, it released the latest data on initial unemployment claims. This is potentially an extremely important indicator: At its best, it's a complete count of all people newly claiming unemployment benefits. Because it's a complete count, there's no measurement error. The data are available quickly, so they potentially are a leading indicator. And because it's a weekly series, it allows policy makers to keep their fingers on the pulse of the economy. At least in theory.