Economic Reporting Fail

The Problem With Claiming the September Jobs Report Fell Short of Predictions

Hint, whose prediction matters

Kristle Chester
4 min readOct 12, 2021

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Author provided image. Data from DeBarros (2021); United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021).

When the September jobs report dropped last week, headlines loudly proclaimed that the 194,000 new nonfarm jobs fell short of the predicted 500,000 — a 306,000 deficit. This narrative has a hole large enough to fly a 737 Max through.

That 500,000 jobs prediction did not originate with the US government. According to CNBC, it’s from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Economic Forecasting Survey — a poll of approximately seventy economists that covers a set of macroeconomic indicators. It is an average of economic models.

How did the WSJ’s survey stack up?

The WSJ plugs these economists’ predictions into Excel and averages them.

I’m serious. You can download the Excel files from their website. No data junkie in their right mind would analyze the results on the same worksheet as the survey data. There’s too much risk that you might accidentally edit something and skew your results without realizing it.

Consider me miffed that the WSJ — the financial newspaper of record — produced a spreadsheet that would fail a high school business class. No, that’s not why I’m appalled that the network news morons quoted the survey as fact.

Line Graph Comparing Official US Payroll Data with the Wall Street Journal’s Prediction
Author provided image. Data from DeBarros (2021); United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021).

Here is the WSJ’s predicted average monthly payroll change for nonfarm jobs since the start of the 2020 dumpster fire, aka the COVID pandemic. The dark line is the US’s actual monthly payroll change from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The pale blue box indicates preliminary BLS data. The number everyone’s worried about will likely be adjusted.

WSJ’s survey frequently missed the overall trend in the actual jobs data, predicting positive or negative growth when the opposite actually occurred.

Has the WSJ survey missed the mark before?

In 2002, the Federal Reserve (Fed) noted in its working paper Evaluating Wall Street

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Kristle Chester

Freelancer. Data geek. Gardener. Baker. Spaniel lover. Georgian. MA International Commerce and Policy.