Topic Archives: Geographic Information

Ensuring Gold-Standard Data in the Eye of a Storm

“Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were the most notable storms of 2017, leaving paths of death and destruction in their wake.”
Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project 2017 summary report

Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project is forecasting the 2018 hurricane season activity (as of May 31) to be average, with 13 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes expected. Is BLS ready?

How does BLS deal with hurricanes?

Since June starts hurricane season, we want to share with you one example of how last year’s storms affected our data. We present a case study using our national employment survey, the Current Employment Statistics program. This program provides monthly estimates we publish in The Employment Situation—sometimes called the “jobs report.”

We have procedures to address natural disasters. We highlight some of our challenges and how we address them. We do everything possible to provide you with gold-standard data to help you make smart decisions!

2017 Hurricane Destruction

Two major hurricanes—Harvey and Irma—blasted the U.S. mainland in August and September 2017. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands later in September.

  • Harvey first made landfall in Texas on August 25. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared 39 Texas counties eligible for federal disaster assistance after Harvey. Harvey also caused heavy damage in Louisiana.
  • Irma hit the Florida Keys on September 10 and then later hit Florida’s southern coast. FEMA declared 48 Florida counties eligible for federal disaster assistance. Before Irma hit the lower Florida Keys, the hurricane already had caused severe damage in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico.
  • Hurricane Maria made landfall in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 20, causing catastrophic damage. These areas already had suffered damage from Hurricane Irma earlier in the month.

Some things to know about the monthly employment survey

The monthly employment survey is a sample of nonfarm businesses and government agencies. The reference period is the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. The sample has just over 23,000 active reporting units in the disaster areas, representing about 6 percent of the entire active sample.

What does it mean to be employed? If the employer pays someone for any part of the reference pay period, that person is counted as employed.

How did BLS collect data in these disaster areas?

Our biggest challenge is to collect representative sample data so we publish high-quality estimates. In the “old days,” the survey was a mail survey (yes, I mean snail mail), but no more! Now we collect data electronically by several different methods. These are the most common:

  • About half the total sample uses electronic data interchange. That’s a centralized electronic data reporting system for multi-establishment firms. The firm provides an electronic file directly from their payroll system to BLS for all establishments included in the report. Most of the firms reporting are outside of the hurricane-affected areas, although they may report on establishments within the affected areas.
  • About 23 percent of establishments use computer-assisted telephone interviews.
  • Another 16 percent report using our Internet Data Collection Facility.

Using these methods, we were able to collect data from most sampled businesses in these areas using normal procedures.

What about the emergency workers working in the disaster areas? How are they counted?

  • We count emergency workers where their employer is located, not where they are working.
  • We don’t count volunteers as employed because they are not paid.
  • Activated National Guard troops are considered active duty military and are outside the scope of the survey.

Did the estimation procedures change?

Once we collect the data from businesses in the affected areas, we consider whether we need to change our estimation procedures to adjust for missing data. The survey staff determined that we didn’t need to change our methods because the collection rates in the affected areas were within normal ranges.

How did the hurricanes affect national employment data for September 2017?

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma reduced the estimate of national payroll employment for September 2017. We can’t measure the effects precisely because the survey is not designed to isolate the effects of catastrophic events. National nonfarm employment changed little (+14,000) in September 2017, after increasing by an average of 189,000 per month over the prior 12 months. A steep employment decline in food services and drinking places and below-trend growth in some industries likely reflected the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

What about Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?

National nonfarm employment estimates do not include Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Because of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could not conduct normal data collection for their establishment surveys. The September estimates for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were delayed. The October and November estimates for the Virgin Islands also were delayed. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands eventually were able to produce estimates for September, October, and November 2017.

Want more information?

For more information on the impact of Harvey, Irma, and Maria, check out these pages:

What else does BLS know about hurricanes?

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages produces maps of businesses and employment in flood zones for states on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts that are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storm. You can read more about those maps in another recent blog.

We hope the 2018 hurricane season won’t bring the loss of life and destruction of property that we saw in 2017. Regardless of what the season brings, BLS will be ready to continue providing gold-standard data about the labor market and economy.

BLS Big Data Delivers Hurricane Flood Zone Maps

Information is key to preparing for a natural disaster. That’s why we have updated our maps of businesses and employment in flood zones for states on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts that are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms.

These maps combine data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Geological Survey. The result is high-resolution graphics for every county with hurricane flood zones along or inland from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages is our “Big Data” program. It gathers data from 9.9 million reports that almost every employer in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands files each quarter. We have been producing maps of businesses and employment in disaster areas since 2001, when we created zip code maps and tables of Lower Manhattan. We began mapping hurricane zones in 2014, combining BLS data with flood zones created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state emergency management agencies.

These maps are one way we use Big Data to create new products without increasing the burden on our respondents. Within BLS, we use these maps for research into the data collection and economic effects of a storm. We also provide these maps to state labor market information offices to use for their statistical analysis and emergency response.

Hurricane maps highlight how we use emerging technologies. We create these maps with open source mapping software, part of our open data practices that make it easier for decision makers to get and use the data.

This isn’t our only example of matching Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data with data from other federal agencies to deliver new insights. We have matched our data with publicly available Internal Revenue Service data to measure employment and wages in nonprofit organizations. We also are working with our colleagues at the Bureau of Economic Analysis to improve understanding of foreign direct investment in the United States. When these data become available, users can analyze employment and wages by industry and occupation in firms with and without foreign direct investment.

All of these efforts improve the quality and breadth of information available for decision makers. If you have ideas about other partnerships with our Big Data team, please send us a message or give us a call!

Local Unemployment: How’s My State Doing?

The Local Area Unemployment Statistics program publishes monthly and yearly estimates of unemployment and the labor force for about 7,000 areas:

  • States
  • Counties and county equivalents
  • Metropolitan areas
  • Cities with 25,000+ population

If you’re looking for local unemployment data, we’ve got you covered!

State Unemployment Rates

This map shows the 2017 unemployment rates for all states (The lighter the color, the better!)

State unemployment rates in 2017

How do states compare with the 2017 national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent?

  • Hawaii and North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rates, 2.4 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.
  • Alaska had the highest unemployment rate, 7.2 percent.
  • Seven states recorded the lowest annual unemployment rates since the series began in 1976: Arkansas (3.7 percent), California (4.8 percent), Hawaii (2.4 percent), Maine (3.3 percent), North Dakota (2.6 percent), Oregon (4.1 percent), and Tennessee (3.7 percent).

To learn more, table 1 in the Regional and State Unemployment — 2017 Annual Averages news release provides the unemployment rate for each state.

State Employment–Population Ratios

Another interesting piece of information is the employment–population ratio, which answers the question: “What percent of the population age 16 and older is employed?”

State employment–population ratios in 2017

The national employment–population ratio in 2017 was 60.1 percent. The employment–population ratio continues to climb from its recessionary low of 58.4 percent in 2011. Here are some 2017 state highlights:

  • North Dakota had the highest proportion of employed people, 69.6 percent. The next highest ratios were in Minnesota, 67.8 percent, and Utah, 67.2 percent.
  • West Virginia had the lowest employment–population ratio among the states, 50.5 percent.

To learn more, table 2 in the Regional and State Unemployment — 2017 Annual Averages news release provides the employment–population ratios by state.

County Unemployment Rates

What if you want to do a deep dive to find out about unemployment in the counties in your state? That’s easy to do, too. You can create your state map showing the current unemployment rates for all your counties in less than a minute by following these instructions:

Mapping Unemployment Rates (States and Counties) -> Counties tab -> Select a state from the dropdown -> Select unemployment data and time period -> Hit draw map.

That’s it! Below the map is a chart with the county data listed in alphabetical order. For comparison purposes, you may want to pick up the state unemployment rate from the state tab. Be sure to choose the not seasonally adjusted data, since the county data are not seasonally adjusted.

We have a webpage where you can get annual data for all counties for 2017 and earlier years.

How does BLS get all of this great data?

Unlike many of our other statistical programs, the Local Area Unemployment Statistics program is not a survey. Instead, the program uses survey and administrative data from multiple sources to produce its estimates, including:

We have a short summary of the estimation methods. We also have a longer description (including formulas!) in our Handbook of Methods.

What is the relationship between local information and the national unemployment rate?

We use the same definitions for our local estimates as we do for the national unemployment rate, which we get from the Current Population Survey. Through a feature known as real-time benchmarking, the local data are controlled to the national totals each month to make the data comparable.

Video: Understanding BLS Unemployment Statistics

Why should I care about local data anyway?

We’re glad you asked! As you can see, individual states and areas can have very different economic conditions than the country as a whole. Local labor force measures provide critical information for states and areas that can help local leaders, communities, and businesses make better economic decisions. The local unemployment estimates also are used by 25 federal programs across 9 departments and independent agencies.

  • Most programs use the data to help determine how to spread funds to communities across the country.
  • Some programs use the data to determine funding eligibility.
  • See the Administrative Uses of Local Area Unemployment Statistics for the full list of federal uses of local unemployment data.

Finally, check out the most recent monthly state and metropolitan area news releases to get all the latest numbers. Like maps and graphics? See our series of graphics for the most recent unemployment data for states and metropolitan areas. Head to our Frequently Asked Questions to learn more.

Have more questions? Contact the information folks at (202) 691-6392 or by email. You also can contact the offices on our State Labor Market Information Contact List.

Small Businesses: This is for YOU!

This week is National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s small business owners and workers to our economy. The U.S. economy is fueled by small businesses, which employ about 69 million workers!

Here at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we work closely with small businesses every day in two main ways:

  • Small businesses participate in our voluntary statistical surveys, so thanks for your cooperation!
  • BLS data help small businesses make smart decisions.

To celebrate Small Business Week, this blog shares some information about small businesses in our current economy and some testimonials from small business owners who use BLS data.

“As the owner of All Things Career Consulting (and a self-proclaimed data geek), I spend a lot of time working with organizations to develop recruiting programs. I also provide individual coaching on navigating career change, especially military transitions. What I like about BLS data is that they help me tell my clients a story about the labor force. It’s important for both employers and employees to understand what jobs are growing and how things such as the unemployment rate impact the job market. So many times people run with a myth that they have heard without digging into the data to find the truth. BLS data help them to set realistic expectations about job prospects, as well as salaries and benefits.” --Lisa Parrott, Owner (Overland Park, Kansas)

 

What is a small business?

We define small establishments as establishments with fewer than 100 workers. What is an establishment? It’s the physical location of an economic activity—for example, a factory, mine, store, or office. An establishment is not necessarily a firm; it may be a branch plant, for example, or a warehouse. Thus, small establishments may include a “mom and pop” grocery store or a small storage facility.“My company, Cornerstone Macro, provides timely analysis of macroeconomic trends to institutional investors. The Bureau’s comprehensive, reliable, and objective statistics – from employment, to inflation, to productivity – are essential to our understanding of the cyclical and secular forces shaping the investment landscape. Without these data, we would not be able to provide best-in-class research to our customers.” --Nancy R. Lazar, Co-Founder (New York, New York)

What is the source of these data?

Each quarter we publish counts of employment and wages reported by employers. These counts, from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, cover more than 97 percent of U.S. jobs. We have detail available at the county, metropolitan area, state, and national levels by industry.

So the quarterly census doesn’t cover every worker in the United States, but it is very close!

How many small businesses are there and how many people do they employ?

Percent distribution of establishments and employment by size of establishment, private sector, March 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Highlights:

  • About 69 million workers—57 percent of all private sector workers—were employed in over 9 million small establishments during March 2017.
  • Small establishments make up over 97 percent of all establishments in the nation. The remaining establishments (181,000), those with 100 or more workers, employed over 51 million workers.
  • A whopping 62 percent of establishments fall within the smallest size class, fewer than 5 employees.

“My company, Piedmont Grocery Co., has been a family owned independent purveyor of fine foods and spirits in Oakland, CA since 1902. We use the Bureau’s consumer price indexes to calculate inflation rates that are used to determine incremental rent increases. Without these timely and objective stats, we could potentially be paying more for our rent than is necessary.” --Amy Pence, Vice President (Oakland, California)

In what industries do we find small businesses?

Percentage of private employment in each industry that is in small establishments, March 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Highlights:

  • Employment in small establishments varies among industries.
  • Real estate and rental and leasing, construction, and wholesale trade have much of their employment in small establishments. It’s more than 80 percent in real estate and rental and leasing.
  • In contrast, 36 percent of manufacturing employment and 43 percent of transportation and warehousing employment are in small establishments.

“QED Consulting provides consulting and training in Leadership, Ethics, Culture, Diversity, & Inclusion to global Fortune 500 companies, governments, and international organizations. We use the Bureau’s data on demographic trends to illustrate the need for organizational policies that make diversity and inclusion work. These objective statistics assist us to help our clients be best in class in terms of diversity and inclusion.” --Alan Richter, Founder and President (New York, New York)

Want to learn more about small businesses? Check out the most recent news release to get all the latest numbers. See our Frequently Asked Questions, or contact us at (202) 691-6567 or by email.

Thank you, small businesses, for your participation and know that we are here to help you in your statistical needs. Happy Small Business Week!

 

Percent distribution of establishments and employment by size of establishment, private sector, March 2017
Establishment size Establishments Employment
Fewer than 5 employees 62% 7%
5–9 employees 15 8
10–19 employees 11 11
20–49 employees 7 18
50–99 employees 2 13
100 or more employees 2 43
Percentage of private employment in each industry that is in small establishments, March 2017
Industry Percent
Real estate and rental and leasing 82%
Construction 74
Wholesale trade 71
Retail trade 64
Services 59
Mining 51
Finance and insurance 51
Transportation and warehousing 43
Manufacturing 36

Reaching out to Stakeholders—and Steakholders—in Philadelphia

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has staff around the country who serve several critical roles:

  • Contacting employers and households to collect the vital economic information published by BLS
  • Working with partners in the states who also collect and review economic data
  • Analyzing and publishing regional, state, and local data and providing information to a wide variety of stakeholders

To expand the network of local stakeholders who are familiar with and use BLS data to help make good decisions, the BLS regional offices sponsor periodic Data User Conferences. The BLS office in Philadelphia recently held such an event, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

These Data User Conferences typically bring together experts from several broad topic areas. In Philadelphia, participants heard about trends in productivity measures; a mash-up of information on a single occupation—truck drivers—that shows the range of data available (pay and benefits, occupational requirements, and workplace safety); and an analysis of declines in labor force participation.

Typically, these events provide a mix of national and local data and try to include some timely local information. The Philadelphia conference included references to the recent Super Bowl victory by the Philadelphia Eagles and showed how to use the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to compare buying power between 1960 (the last time the Eagles won the NFL Championship) and today.

We also tried to develop a cheesesteak index, a Philadelphia staple. Using data from the February 2018 Consumer Price Index, we can find the change in the price of cheesesteak ingredients over the past year.

Ingredient Change in Consumer Price Index, February 2017 to February 2018
White bread 2.5 percent decrease
Beef and veal 2.1 percent increase
Fresh vegetables 2.1 percent increase
Cheese and related products 0.8 percent decrease

Image of a Philadelphia cheesesteak

These data are for the nation as a whole and are available monthly. Consumer price data are also available for many metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia. These local data are typically available every other month and do not provide as much detail as the national data.

While the Data User Conferences focus on providing information, we also remind attendees the information is only available thanks to the voluntary cooperation of employers and households. The people who attend the conferences can help us produce gold standard data by cooperating with our data-collection efforts. In return we remind them we always have “live” economists available in their local BLS information office to answer questions by phone or email or help them find data quickly.

Although yet another Nor’easter storm was approaching, the recent Philadelphia Data User Conference included an enthusiastic audience who asked good questions and left with a greater understanding of BLS statistics. The next stop on the Data User Conference tour is Atlanta, later this year. Keep an eye on the BLS Southeast Regional Office webpage for more information.