The US Department of Labor will add an accuracy warning to its weekly unemployment reports after a federal watchdog found flaws in how the figures were reported.
The agency’s closely watched reports have equated the number of weeks for which Americans claimed unemployment benefits with the number of people who are actually out of work — a comparison that’s become “flawed” thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the Government Accountability Office said in a Monday report.
“Various issues arising from the pandemic have made this practice problematic — potentially overstating the number of individuals in certain circumstances and understating the number in others,” the office said.
That’s because states have struggled to process huge backlogs of claims as the COVID-19 crisis forced a record number of Americans onto unemployment rolls, leading to distortions in the data, the watchdog said. Large numbers of fraudulent claims have also complicated efforts to get an accurate count, according to the report.
To address those problems, the Labor Department will add a disclaimer to its weekly news releases saying that “the numbers it reports for weeks of unemployment claimed do not accurately estimate the number of unique individuals claiming benefits,” the office said.
Labor officials will also work to report the actual number of distinct people claiming jobless benefits going forward, but it has not agreed to publish those figures retroactively because of the difficulties in obtaining the data, according to the report.