How can conflicting jobs claims made by two Kansas leaders and candidates for governor be reconciled?
Listening to the State of the State Address and the official response might cause Kansans to become confused, or worse. The claims made by Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.
In the State of the State Address, Brownback said “Since December 2010, Kansas has added on average, more than a thousand private sector jobs every month.”
Davis, in the official response, said “According to the latest jobs report — released just a few weeks ago — there are 16,000 fewer Kansans working than when Governor Brownback took office.”
First, Davis made a mistake. He cited a number that measure the labor force and said it represented the number of Kansans working. But the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is “the sum of employed and unemployed persons.” In other words, it is the number of people working plus the number of people looking for work.
Aside from this, who is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each of these candidates for Kansas governor has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.
A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”
Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”
Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)
I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign in December (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.
I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.
Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.
We still have this question: Who is correct? Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas.
Why not share my comments about the applicability to the survey for the numbers presented? I wrote a long letter to you explaining the differences and the research I found supporting Brownback for the purposes stated.
Davis is using a CPS household survey that is NOT intended to provide raw employment numbers but rather provide a reasonable indication of the socioeconomic, racial and genders affected by unemployment. It is far less detailed and the sample population used for the testing methods are only relevant to a generalized stratification for which this survey was designed.
The CES is made up of VERIFIABLE and documented actual employment numbers provided directly by thousands of participating businesses across most every sector of industry and service available.
There are some limits to each – but in the context of how these politicians are using the data – the CES would be a more accurate statistic to follow as far as providing a real indication of NUMBER of job growth or decline. It shows we are growing – slowly – but growing.
There are certainly some troubling things that can be deciphered from the CPS data – which is a survey, typically by phone, directly to households. Of note is the discrepancy between racial, gender and age of those more affected by the downturn in the economy and who is more likely to receive lower-paying jobs, in general, than others that can be identified by such classifications within the survey population sets. Again – this is a data set that is largely subjective and unverifiable other than to call each person back and ask their opinion. Even then, the data set is so small that it does not provide the sample size large enough to be functionally useful for a means of determining the actual number of jobs in the state.
It would be like calling 60 homes in the city, asking about what kinds of animals they have then what the age of the home owner was, how many children they have living at home and their race and trying to use those responses to estimate how many city employees will be needed to capture the stray animals in town – or trying to decide how many animals are actually in town.
A better survey might come from a targeted analysis with response of a majority of vets in town. But why limit yourself to subjective analysis when you can go straight to a verifiable reporting – the city and county animal licensing. Sure there are people who do not license their animals – and that number can be estimated with a high degree based on activity of the animal control and other smaller sample population surveys – but the vast majority of the data will be verifiable as there are actual reports for all the licenses indicating a stable number of pets in the city registered to homes here.
If the registration of animals increases – the registrations are tracked. It is a more specific method to determine the raw number of animals in the city. Likewise – receiving employment reports directly from the employers is a more stable method of analyzing industry activity and growth, or decline. It is even more accurate when you look at industry spending habits (are they spending on employment, capital improvements, materials, other investments) – yet this is a topic for another day.
William Eric Henderson