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Employment Projections
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Macro Projections: Summary of Evaluations

This page compares multiple BLS projection sets. The accuracy of any single projection can be largely influenced by which part of the business cycle the economy is in at target date, as well as unexpected structural changes to the economy. Looking at the accuracy of multiple projections over a longer timeframe can give a better sense of the accuracy of BLS projections than any one projection would.

BLS projects an economy at potential output (also referred to as full employment)1. Therefore, BLS recommends comparing its projections to historical estimates at potential2 to gauge accuracy. In some instances it is still useful to compare projections to actual (non–potential) data. Multiple BLS projections are compared to historical estimates of potential as well as actual data for GDP and the unemployment rate to help assess the accuracy of its projections.

The projections evaluations covers the most recent publications whose target date has elapsed. These currently include 2006–16, 2004–14, and 2002–12. For more information, refer to our evaluation methodology. Future evaluations will be added as they become available at which point the oldest will be dropped.

Measuring accuracy

The 2007–09 recession revealed structural changes to the economy that BLS did not foresee during the 2002, 2004, and 2006 projections. The growth rate of potential output was less than expected. Cyclical effects masked this lower growth rate in the run up to the recession. This was especially pronounced for 2006–16 projections, a year before the recession, when BLS projected GDP 20.0 percent higher than potential. Much of the structural changes that affected potential are due to changes in the labor force participation rates (See labor force accuracy assessment).

 

Gross Domestic Product, historical and Bureau of Labor Statistics projections

 

Level

Difference from potential

In percent

Difference from actual

In percent

2012

BLS Projection

16596.7

691.2

4.3

1242.1

8.1

Actual (BEA)

15354.6

-550.9

-3.5

.

.

Potential (CBO)

15905.5

.

.

550.9

3.6

2014

BLS Projection

17499.7

1113.3

6.8

1486.4

9.3

Actual (BEA)

16013.3

-373.1

-2.3

.

.

Potential (CBO)

16386.4

.

.

373.1

2.3

2016

BLS Projection

20321.8

3381.9

20.0

3605.6

21.6

Actual (BEA)

16716.2

-223.7

-1.3

.

.

Potential (CBO)

16939.9

.

.

223.7

1.3

Note: Data as of April 11, 2018.


While the actual unemployment rate swung wildly during and after the 2007–09 recession, unemployment at potential moved little3. Therefore, BLS 2002–12 and 2004–14 projections were relatively accurate relative to the potential baseline. Potential unemployment drifted downwards after the recession through today. Consequently, 2006–16 unemployment projections were higher than potential unemployment, 5.0 compared to 4.6 respectively.

Unemployment rate

 

Projections' Periods that have been Compared

Notes

1 For a more detailed explanation of potential output and how it relates to BLS projections see Full employment, an assumption within BLS projections

2 All historical estimates of potential output and unemployment at potential come from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)

3 The unemployment rate at potential is referred to by the BLS as the non–accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU). Other agencies, such as CBO, refer to the natural rate of unemployment.

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Last Modified Date: August 1, 2018