Employment Numbers as Recession Indicators

Source: U.S House of Representatives, Joint Economic Committee (Republicans), January 2008

This paper investigates the value of employment data as real-time recession indicators. Among popular monthly labor measures, the unemployment rate is the most useful as an indicator of recession, whereas two top measures of employment growth -payroll jobs and civilian employment -have little value. Two other series, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, also provide little or no value in anticipating a recession. The best pre-recession employment indicator is actually weekly claims for unemployment insurance (UI). The paper reviews a new technique for predicting recessions, and develops an employment recession probability index. The index indicates a 35.5 percent chance that the U.S. economy is in recession, sharply up from 10 percent last month.

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