Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other schools say they can use cell phone data to get a faster and more accurate understanding of unemployment.
Scholars looked at cell phone records in a small Spanish town where a large factory closed, putting 1,100 people out of work. The data shows the number of calls made by newly laid off people fell by about half, while the number of incoming calls also dropped and the number of cell phone towers their calls engages also declined.
Co-author Jameson Toole said analysis of the cell phone data gives results that closely align with standard unemployment measures. He said this is helpful because other survey measures can be more expensive and time consuming, and in some cases, do not give as much detail for small communities.
In the United States for example, unemployment surveys cover tens of thousands of people, while tracking the number of newly-created jobs involves questioning people in hundreds of thousands of workplaces.
In a Skype interview Toole said the new tool complements traditional methods, and can help analysts make faster and more accurate predictions of future jobless rates. He said the tools were developed at a local level, but "worked just fine" when scaled up to cover a whole province.