WASHINGTON, D.C. — The unemployment rate disclosed for May would have been a three percentage points higher than what was reported last week by the federal government had figures been properly classified, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has acknowledged.
In revealing a 13.3% unemployment rate for May, the BLS also provided notes at the end of its report indicating the joblessness of many Americans had been mis-characterized.
Essentially, a group of workers was "classified as employed but absent from work" instead of being considered unemployed.
Initial news reports cited the 13.3% unemployment rate as touted by the BLS only to discover later the statistical problem deeper in the text released by the federal government.
"Workers who indicate they were not working during the entire survey reference week and expect to be recalled to their jobs should be classified as unemployed on temporary layoff," the BLS stated.
Had the unemployment numbers been properly classified, the rate would have been about three percentage points higher, the government said. That would have put the rate at about 16.3% for the month.
"However, according to usual practice, the data from the household survey are accepted as recorded. To maintain data integrity, no ad hoc actions are taken to reclassify survey responses," the agency said.
In other words, the BLS reported wrong numbers, indicated why they were wrong deep in the unemployment report and declined to change the 13.3% official tally while indicating the agency is investigating.
"BLS and the Census Bureau are investigating why this misclassification error continues to occur and are taking additional steps to address the issue," the agency said.
BLS also reported challenges in gathering data during the pandemic, indicating many employees are working from home. About a fifth of the data used to determine monthly unemployment rates is gathered through regional data collection centers, which have been closed.
About 75% of workers at those centers have been working remotely and collecting data by telephone.
Employers also are encouraged to report their employment numbers electronically, and May's collection rate for that information was "slightly lower than collection rates prior to the pandemic," the BLS said.