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Data Q&A: EMSI data and public LMI

May 27, 2008 by Emsi Burning Glass

Q. EMSI’s data is different from data I get from my state’s labor market information (LMI) agency. Which is right?

A. Actually, this is not a case of one being “right” and one being “wrong,” because the data sets have different sources, purposes, and coverage.

First, let’s clarify that EMSI actually offers two different data sets: “EMSI Complete” and “EMSI Covered.” You’ll probably see significant differences between EMSI Complete and your state’s LMI data, but only minor differences between state data and EMSI Covered. That’s because EMSI Covered and state LMI are based on the same single data source: the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW; formerly ES-202). This federal program, with participation from all the states, collects data on all workers who are covered by unemployment insurance (UI), which is why we call it “EMSI Covered.” You will often hear reporters and economy-watchers talk about these numbers as “payrolls,” because nearly all payroll employees are covered by UI. Interested readers can take a look at the BLS Handbook of Methods for more information.

There are only two differences between EMSI Covered and state LMI data:

  1. EMSI “unsuppresses” non-disclosed data. The QCEW program collects and releases data with the promise that published data cannot be tied to any single business establishment. So whenever it determines there is a chance of this (and the chance increases with more geographic and industry detail), it “suppresses” those data points—e.g., number of jobs and total wages for industry X in county A. You will often see these as “(D)” or “(ND)” symbols in state data. Since EMSI’s philosophy is to achieve the most complete and detailed data possible, we use sophisticated techniques and additional data sources to estimate these suppressed values.
  2. EMSI distributes jobs coded at the state level to individual counties. A small percentage of QCEW-reported jobs are coded only at the state level rather than in a particular county. For our EMSI Covered data set, we have chosen to redistribute these jobs proportionally by industry to individual counties, rather than leaving them at the state level.

(Updated: Moreover, keep in mind that EMSI Covered aligns with private-sector only employment reported in QCEW; EMSI puts all government employment, regardless of industry, into separate categories based on total figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

So, if you use EMSI Covered data, you’ll get results that line up very closely with your state’s LMI data for private-sector employment. (You can toggle between EMSI Covered and Complete in EMSI’s Strategic Advantage suite by choosing Home > Preferences > Data Options.)

We also produce the “EMSI Complete” data set because a significant portion of the workforce is not covered by traditional QCEW labor market data. Here are just a few examples of non-covered workers:

  • Self-employed workers (sole proprietors, partnerships, tax-exempt cooperatives)
  • Railroad employees
  • Military employees
  • Farm workers
  • Insurance and real estate agents receiving commissions
  • Private schools and religious organizations (partially reported)
  • Nonprofit organizations with fewer than four employees
  • And more….

Because EMSI is interested in creating the most “complete” possible picture of local economies, we estimate jobs and earnings for all these workers using additional data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau (QCEW is produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Because the number of non-covered workers in a given area can be large, job figures in EMSI Complete will often be much larger than those in state LMI data. This is natural considering the expanded coverage of EMSI Complete. Data users should also remember that labor market data normally counts jobs, not headcount of workers (some Census data counts workers). A single worker holding two half-time jobs would cause two jobs to appear in the data. Although our clients sometimes request it, there is currently no reliable method for translating these raw job figures into full-time equivalent (FTE) job figures.

Choosing the right data source for your research project depends on your purposes and goals, but knowing the basic differences between various sources is essential. EMSI’s philosophy is to produce integrated data that is as complete and detailed as possible, locally focused, and internally self-consistent. Public agencies more focused on producing separate data sets collected from individual programs, while preserving the confidentiality of underlying records.

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