The economic news that came first thing Friday morning was not what President Biden had hoped: the country added only 210,000 jobs in November, well below expectations and below the pace needed to replace the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic. But in 2021, the anodyne qualifier that the numbers are subject to revision is more important than ever. The odds are good that the November total is being underreported — as happened nearly every other month this year.

It happened in the November jobs report, too. Yes, the top-line number of 210,000 jobs wasn’t what economists or Democrats hoped to see. But there were also upward revisions to the September and October jobs numbers, by 67,000 jobs in the former and 15,000 in the latter.

The change to the September number is the second revision. The first increased the initial estimate by 118,000. In other words, the September jobs total was increased by 185,000 since it was initially reported as 194,000 — an initial report that was described as “disappointing.” Since that disappointing report, the estimated number of jobs added in the month has nearly doubled.

That’s happened repeatedly this year. Since 1979, the furthest back that Bureau of Labor Statistics data on revisions goes, the country has never added as many jobs in a year or seen such a large upward revision. The arrows below show the revision from the initial estimate (indicated with a line). Revisions are usually modest. Not this year.

When The Washington Post’s Andrew Van Dam looked at this phenomenon last month, he explained that the revisions are a function of how the government’s estimates work, including revising its understanding of when job growth occurs. But the effect, in this case, is a cumulative shift in the initial reported jobs totals that, by now, is nearing 1 million.


In total, that’s an upward shift of 976,000 jobs. It is the largest upward revision over the course of a year.

It might not hold: the October numbers will be adjusted in next month’s report, as will the ones released Friday. But, so far this year, only one month has been revised downward. It is more common for initial reports to be revised upward than downward, although it is unusual for upward revisions to be so consistent.

It is important to remember that this is in part a function of the weirdness of the economy and the scale of the rebound in employment. You probably noticed that the other outliers on the graph of cumulative revisions were 2008 and 2020, years in which employment shifted dramatically because of economic shocks. Biden has benefited from the economy rapidly adding jobs as it recovers from the worst effects of the pandemic; that has both amplified the number of jobs “created” this year and undoubtedly contributed to the need to revise prior estimates. Because so many jobs have been added, the revisions are actually a relatively small percentage of the total. In past years, the revisions have been larger when measured relative to the total jobs numbers.

But this weirdness also serves as a cautionary note for the jobs report released on Friday. In 2021, at least, the initial number of jobs reported might be treated the way Mark Twain treated the weather in New England. If you’re not happy about it, wait a little bit.