This Day On The Street
Continue to site right-arrow
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
Stocks Under $10 with 50-100% upside potential - 14 days FREE!

Resolving the Payroll-vs.-Household Debate

Editor's Note: This is a bonus story from Barry Ritholtz, whose commentary usually appears only on RealMoney . We're offering it today to readers. To read Barry Ritholtz's commentary regularly, please click here for information about a free trial to RealMoney.

A week after the disappointing July employment report, it is hard to imagine that some economists are still sticking to the canard that the household survey more accurately reflects job creation and economic expansion than the payroll survey.

Several economists -- with agendas ranging from "refusal to admit error" to pure partisan politics -- continue to claim that the divergence between the two surveys understates the true strength of the economy.

How significant is the difference between these two data points? Consider the recent July payroll data, which came in significantly below expectations, with only 32,000 jobs created vs. a consensus of 240,000. The household survey covering the same month showed 629,000 new jobs. This might make investors more bullish, if they did not fully understand how the household survey is different from the payrolls survey. About 92% -- 577,000 of the jobs in the household survey -- were part-time only. Further, these 629,000 jobs also included uncompensated family employees and agricultural jobs, which, by definition, are not included in the nonfarm payroll survey.

An objective review of the data thoroughly discredits the "household survey is stronger" rationale, which has become the last refuge of economic scoundrels.

For those of you less interested in drilling down through the economic data, consider these comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan during his congressional testimony at the House of Representatives on Feb. 11: "I wish I could say the household survey were the more accurate. Everything we've looked at suggests that it's the payroll data which are the series which you have to follow."

If you choose to ignore the congressional testimony of the Federal Reserve chairman, than consider the source of these reports themselves: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has recently looked into the statistical divergences between the two data sources and showed why the so-called household/payroll survey discrepancy is in actuality a "non-issue."

Different Methodologies

First, let's review the methodological differences. It turns out they are quite significant. The household survey relies on asking people -- in person, at their homes -- about their personal employment situation. A total of 60,000 households are contacted this way each month, according to analysts I spoke to at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

The establishment, or payroll, survey, on the other hand, takes data directly from 400,000 established employers, typically though a payroll or human resources person.

The two different data series are extrapolated out to produce statistics on the 129.9 million employed people in the U.S.

1 of 3

Select the service that is right for you!

Action Alerts PLUS
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
  • Weekly roundups
TheStreet Quant Ratings
Try it NOW
Only $49.95/yr

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
  • Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Stocks Under $10
Try it NOW

David Peltier, uncovers low dollar stocks with extraordinary upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
  • Weekly roundups
Dividend Stock Advisor
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
  • Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Real Money Pro
Try it NOW

All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.

Product Features:
  • Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
  • Intraday commentary & news
  • Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Options Profits
Try it NOW

Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • 100+ monthly options trading ideas
  • Actionable options commentary & news
  • Real-time trading community
  • Options TV
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
Submit an article to us!


DOW 17,804.80 +26.65 0.15%
S&P 500 2,070.65 +9.42 0.46%
NASDAQ 4,765.38 +16.9840 0.36%

Brokerage Partners

Rates from

  • Mortgage
  • Credit Cards
  • Auto

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs