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Big revisions help brighten monthly US jobs report

Published: Monday, May 6, 2013 11:53 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The 165,000 jobs the U.S. economy added in April weren’t the only reason to be cheered by Friday’s employment report.

Nearly as significant were the Labor Department’s revised estimates of how many jobs employers added in the previous two months. Whenever the government issues its employment report for the past month, it also revises the job totals for the previous two.

It turns out, the department said Friday, that many more jobs were created in February and March than first thought.

Initially, a severe slowdown seemed to have occurred in March: The government had estimated that just 88,000 jobs were added. That would have been the fewest in nine months.

That was then. Now, March looks much stronger. On Friday, the department said its revised estimate is that employers added 138,000 jobs in March.

The revisions for February were even better. The government now says employers added 332,000 jobs in February, compared with the 236,000 initially reported. Among private companies, 319,000 jobs were added — the best monthly figure in nearly eight years.

Combined, the job gains from the February and March revisions totaled 114,000. Add them to April’s hiring, and the economy has 279,000 more jobs than it did before Friday’s report.

Over the past 12 months, the department’s revisions have added a total of 309,000 jobs to the nation’s payrolls.

The department revises each month’s figures over the subsequent two months by reviewing further data from the companies and government agencies it surveys. Typically, about 75 percent of the 145,000 employers it surveys respond in time for each month’s initial report. The response rate usually rises to about 95 percent two months later, when the third estimate is released.

The department also revises five years’ worth of data each year in what it calls its “benchmark” annual revision. For those updates, it uses actual job counts from unemployment insurance tax records.

The revisions usually aren’t as large as they were this time. After two revisions, February’s total is now 96,000 higher than it was initially. Since 1979, the revisions have averaged about 57,000, up or down, per month.

Most of the revisions since the recession have been upward. Economists say that’s a good sign because it points to an underlying trend. An upward revision suggests that the late-responding companies added more jobs than the department had expected. It also implies that any corrections submitted by companies were also larger.

By contrast, during the recession, most of the revisions were downward. In 2008, the average revision was 73,000 lower.

And in 2009, some months were much worse: the department initially thought 598,000 jobs were cut in January of that year. That has since been revised to a whopping 821,000.

Some numbers that were initially eye-catching became more ho-hum.

For example, the August 2011 employment report was depressing. With the unemployment rate at 9 percent, the government said the struggling economy had added precisely zero jobs that month.

The zero figure had a political impact: Some Republicans dubbed President Barack Obama “President Zero.”

The critics should have waited for the revisions: The department now estimates that 132,000 jobs were added in August 2011. That’s still not healthy. But it’s a lot better than zero.

April’s gain of 165,000 jobs, meanwhile, is a solid increase.

But then it hasn’t been revised yet.

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