Jobs-Data Analysis in the Age of Social Media

Watching the subjective comments about today's employment report for February on my Twitter feed -- everything from "HUGE" to "WOW" to the insightful "whoo-whoo" -- I started to wonder about the whole social-media thing again.

I quickly learned that the 236,000 increase in non-farm jobs "BLEW AWAY THE ESTIMATES" (that would be an expected increase of 165,000 according to a Bloomberg News survey, which is statistically insignificant from the actual result); that the 7.7 percent unemployment rate and 14.3 percent "U-6" measure of underemployment were the lowest since President Barack Obama took office; and that if people hadn't been exiting the labor force en masse, everything would look much worse.

Pity Wall Street economists! With this sort of analysis, who needs a fully staffed department of economists, research assistants and interns in an age of cost-cutting?

By the time my printer finished spitting out the 38-page employment report, the Twitterverse had moved on to a new level of analytical sophistication, infused with a touch of political bias. One person on Twitter diagnosed the U.S. economy as still "sick." (Hint: Policy makers need to do more.) Another calculated that, at the current rate of job growth, it would take eight years to return to the pre-recession level of employment. (Obama's policies are failing.) A third said that without the drip, drip, drip of government jobs, the unemployment rate would be lower. (Your call on the political inference.)

I started to think about the motivation of the providers of these key insights. Surely it wasn't for their followers, for whom other news sources, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, were just a keystroke away. So it must be for themselves. Everyone wants -- everyone needs -- an audience, a platform to promote oneself and one's ideas. Twitter provides just that, to the qualified and unqualified alike, no questions asked.

Now that I've got that straight, I can dig into the data.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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    Caroline Baum

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