Communicating Uncertainty in Official Economic Statistics

24 Pages Posted: 6 May 2014

See all articles by Charles F. Manski

Charles F. Manski

Northwestern University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: May 2014

Abstract

Federal statistical agencies in the United States and analogous agencies elsewhere commonly report official economic statistics as point estimates, without accompanying measures of error. Users of the statistics may incorrectly view them as error-free or may incorrectly conjecture error magnitudes. This paper discusses strategies to mitigate misinterpretation of official statistics by communicating uncertainty to the public. Sampling error can be measured using established statistical principles. The challenge is to satisfactorily measure the various forms of non-sampling error. I find it useful to distinguish transitory statistical uncertainty, permanent statistical uncertainty, and conceptual uncertainty. I illustrate how each arises as the Bureau of Economic Analysis periodically revises GDP estimates, the Census Bureau generates household income statistics from surveys with non-response, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusts employment statistics.

Suggested Citation

Manski, Charles F., Communicating Uncertainty in Official Economic Statistics (May 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w20098, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2432840

Charles F. Manski (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Economics ( email )

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