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.