Why Did Our Unemployment Rate Change?

Posted on May 21, 2015 by Greg Chmura

You may have noticed that your recent historical unemployment rate numbers look different—very different—compared to how you remember them looking just a few months ago. If you’ve noticed this, you’re not alone.

Amount of Revision

Percentage Point Change in Monthly Unemployment Rates, Revised Versus Prior

01/10 07/10 01/11 07/11 01/12 07/12 01/13 07/13 01/14 07/14 -1.0 -0.8 -0.6 -0.4 -0.2 0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 Percentage Point Change

With the publication of 2015 unemployment rate data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics implemented its “2015 LAUS Redesign,” a set of methodological changes in their Local Area Unemployment Statistics program (LAUS). In conjunction with this, local unemployment rate estimates for the period 2010 to 2014 were revised and rereleased.

At the county level, the impact on the numbers ranged from slight to eye-popping. And while smaller regions tended to have more dramatic adjustments, even some large areas saw fairly significant revisions.

For example, the monthly unemployment rate estimates for 2010 to 2014 in Marion County, Indiana (Indianapolis) were revised upward an average of 0.6 percentage points. Miami-Dade County, Florida, on the other hand, saw an average 1.1 percentage point decrease for its unemployment rates over the same period.

Other examples of increased estimates included Sumter County, Florida (+3.1 percentage points on average) and Clarke County, Alabama (+3.6 percentage points). At the county level, the largest average increase in monthly unemployment rates happened in Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska, with a whopping 7.0 average percentage point revision.

Places with downward revisions from 2010 to 2014 included York County, South Carolina (-1.8 percentage points) and Santa Cruz County, Arizona (-2.0 percentage points). The largest overall drop happened in Chattahoochee County, Georgia, where the monthly unemployment rates were revised downward an average of 5.6 percentage points for the period.

You can use the tools and charts above to select your region, see how your unemployment rate estimates were changed, and compare the scale of these changes with revisions in other regions.

The data used in the above charts—as well as in all the comparisons made in the above text—are based upon the LAUS release of April 29, 2015 compared with data from February 4, 2015, the date of the last release before the revisions were implemented.

This blog reflects Chmura staff assessments and opinions with the information available at the time the blog was written.