AP's Rugaber Doesn't Like DOL's Lack of Excuses for Rise in Initial Unemployment Claims, Makes One Up

It would appear, according to the Associated Press's Christopher Rugaber, that something unusual had to explain why initial unemployment claims as reported by Uncle Sam's Department of Labor rose to a seasonally adjusted 424,000 during the week ended May 21 when they were expected to decline. In previous weeks, poor performances have been explained by DOL spokespersons as due to the unusually late Easter, the weather, Japanese supply interruptions, and Jupiter not being aligned with Mars (okay, I'm kidding about the last one).

Apparently, one thing is for certain in AP-Land: The troubling 400,000-plus plateau in weekly initial claims can't possibly have anything to do with Obama administration's economic policies (or lack thereof).

Today, as Bloomberg noted, the Department of Labor offered up no excuses: "There were no special factors behind last week’s increase, a Labor Department official said as the figures were released."

Rugaber wasn't satisfied with that answer, and decided he would roll out one of his own without any evidence. The AP reporter has also developed a strange obsession with reminding everyone on a weekly basis when initial claims peaked (bolds are mine):

The number of people seeking benefits rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 424,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. No states cited extreme weather as a factor in the increase, a department spokesman said. Tornadoes and floods have devastated several states in the Midwest and South in the past month.


Applications are above the 375,000 level that is consistent with sustainable job growth. Applications peaked at 659,000 during the recession.

How weird is it that a reporter would attempt to cobble together an excuse when the DOL, which has been more than glad to supply one or more in previous weeks, didn't have any?

As to the ritual citation of the 659,000 claims during the recession, it's getting more than a little old, as is the selectivity in data reporting designed to make things appear better than they really are.

Chris, initial claims peaked during the week ended March 28, 2009, well over two years ago. Let's look at what has happened since June 2009, when the recession as normal people define it ended:

  • During the recession's last full week, initial claims were 601,000.
  • For the next 21 months, initial claims slowly declined. During each of the four weeks in the period that ended April 2, they averaged just over 390,000, getting somewhat close to the 375,000 the AP reporter dubiously claims is "consistent with sustainable job growth."
  • Then "something" happened. In each of the past seven weeks, as seen below, seasonally adjusted claims have been over 400,000:


  • In fact, the four-week moving average has been over 430,000 during each of the past four weeks.

While quoting from the AP's obfuscatory report and compare those quotes to reality, here are three questions for the wire service and Chris Rugaber (I could come up with more):

  1. Is it more important that initial claims had their "first increase in three weeks," or that they have remained stuck above 400,000 for the past eight?
  2. Is it more important that claims "peaked at 659,000 during the recession" over 110 weeks ago, or that the four-week moving average has stubbornly trended upward for most of the past eight weeks?
  3. Is it more important that the four-week moving average "declined for the first time in seven weeks," or that it's barely lower than the 441,500 reported during the week of November 13, 2010 (and will more than likely be revised upward next week)?

The questions answer themselves.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.