Initial jobless claims, which are a measure of the number of people recently laid off, fell by 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the lowest level in more than four years.
But the Labor Department spokesman said the numbers were skewed by one large state that underreported its data. The spokesman declined to identify the state, but economists believe California is the only state large enough to have such a significant impact on the overall numbers.
According to the spokesman, the reason that state’s claims numbers fell short was because the state left out a pile of unprocessed claims related to seasonal factors around the beginning of the fourth quarter, which began Oct. 1.
In a research note, Stephen Stanley of Pierpont Securities summed up the data: “In short, this reading is worthless in terms of informing on the general economy.”
It marked the second time in a week that key employment data have come under scrutiny for being possibly more encouraging than it actually is. On Friday, the Labor Department’s September jobs report said the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8% from 8.1% a month earlier.
Coming a month ahead of the presidential election, some have suggested that the numbers are being manipulated for political purposes. Specifically, some supporters of Republican candidate Mitt Romney have accused the Obama Administration of doctoring the numbers to support President Obama’s re-election bid.