I love Google. But it’s not a very good economist. Type “unemployment rate,” and here’s what it yields:
The first of these links is from Google, and it tells you that the unemployment rate is 8.7%. The second is to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tells you that it is 9.1%.
Technically, both are correct. But you are better off not relying on the Google number. You see, most economic discourse is about seasonally adjusted data—the unemployment rate adjusted to take account of the usual seasonal ups and downs. But Google links instead to the non-seasonally adjusted data, which virtually no one pays attention to. And this is why its little graph wiggles up and down so much.
The second link is more useful, taking you to the Bureau of Labor Statistics page where they describe trends in the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate. And the third link is beautiful: It takes you to the BLS page where they plot the latest data, but without the seasonal wiggles.
Yes, Google does offer a disclaimer with its data. But a better answer would be to link to the seasonally adjusted data.
Indeed, that’s exactly what you get when you search for, say, the “unemployment rate in France.”
Hopefully some of my Google friends can fix the U.S. data before some poor Congressional intern is fired for putting the wrong number in a speech.
Disclosure: Given that I’m writing about labor issues, the usual disclosure applies.