MECEP recently published a jobs report that raises questions about Maine’s economic performance since January 2011 and suggests that the LePage Administration could do more to address ongoing economic challenges. Our report was based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Current Employment Statistics (CES). Recent changes to how this data is collected and reported mean that until the adjusted CES numbers come out in March the current numbers may change significantly. While we noted that these figures are subject to revision in our original report, we wanted to clarify the issues surrounding this data for our readers and anyone who may wish to cite our report.
The CES is a collection of monthly data estimates for employment, average hourly earnings, and average weekly hours. Historically, individual states were charged with the task of collecting monthly employment estimates, and reporting those figures to the BLS to compile and publish. Today, BLS collects and publishes all preliminary employment figures based on their own survey of 141,000 firms nationwide. The results of this new methodology for smaller, more rural states have been highly variable. Until states have had an opportunity to cross-check and revise the CES estimates with data from their own quarterly census of employment and wages, the monthly figures may not provide the most accurate barometer of economic activity. These are serious issues which are receiving attention from the National Academy of Sciences.
MECEP acknowledges these issues and opted to go forward with the initial jobs report for two reasons. First, the CES figures are still recognized nationally as the most relevant data for reporting on jobs. While the methodology for collecting and reporting these figures must be improved, they remain the most readily available data on this topic. We have consistently referenced these numbers in talking about Maine’s job performance over the last several months. Second, MECEP had concerns about the apparent anomalies in the data for Maine. We sought to control for these in multiple ways and found that while the absolute numbers changed in terms of the number of jobs lost or gained, the overall story did not. Maine’s job performance in 2011 has not kept pace with other states. Critical decisions are being made now- such as whether or not to pass a bond package -that could impact our future jobs picture. We opted to proceed with the jobs report using available BLS data. When the final revised figures are available in March, we will re-release our “Jobs in Focus” report with this new data. In the meantime, hats off to Matt Wickenheiser at the Bangor Daily News and Tom Porter at Maine Public Radio for reporting on these issues when we initially released our report.