If you were to lose your job today, would you be eligible for an unemployment insurance check? Does your employer have a total payroll over $500? If so, you are probably one of the 200,000 people covered by unemployment insurance (UI) in Wyoming.
Unemployment insurance is administered by the state with funding from the federal government. In the process of administering the program, data is gathered quarterly from employers. This data is commonly called "wage records". An employee's wage record (i.e. wage history) is used to calculate UI benefits. Gathering wage data for all UI covered workers is intended to facilitate the payment of benefits.
Research & Planning has, for the past two years, been monitoring this data and we are now releasing summary data series to the public. UI wage records represent one of the most exciting and valuable new data series to come out of Research & Planning. However, before you can fully understand wage records, you need to understand the basis of the data. A list of common wage record questions have been compiled to help you understand how they can be used.
Wage records are an administrative database used to calculate UI benefits for employees who have been laid-off through no fault of their own. By law, each employer who has covered employees, must submit tax reports to the state showing each employee's wage.
The required information on this tax report includes social security number (SSN) for each covered employee, year, quarter, and wages earned in the quarter. In fact, as you read this article, chances are your employer is in the process of reporting your total wages for first quarter 1995 (January, February, March) to us.
The information on this tax report is then entered into the Department of Employment's mainframe computer. The mainframe computer only maintains the previous six quarters of wage records. For example: at the end of March 1995, the wage record database included data from third quarter 1993 to fourth quarter 1994. When a new quarter is added, the oldest quarter is dropped off the system.
Before the oldest quarter is dropped off the mainframe we "download" the wage record files to a microcomputer. Thus we are able to maintain wage histories for workers in Wyoming over more than six quarters. Previous to our downloads this historic data was lost and no longer available for research.
In last month's Wyoming Labor Force Trends, we published the 1994 Annual Average Civilian Labor Force estimate for Wyoming as calculated by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. In 1994, the annual average employment was 250,000 people. If we compare the LAUS estimate to the wage record average social security numbers for 1994, we see that wage records account for approximately 86 percent of the labor force. If wage records do not account for all people in the labor force, who are we missing? The following is a list of typical employment not covered by UI wage records. They are:
Wage records can support data trends. Trends reports employment in terms such as "jobs" in Current Employment Statistics (CES), or by "estimated labor force" in LAUS. We further try to explain employment by industry (ES-202). These concepts work well when these programs point in the same direction. However, when they disagree we are left to guess which program produces the best data. Because wage records are reported by SSN's we can look at the individual workers and find out more details about their total experience over time. In essence, we can use wage records to validate our estimates.
For example: neither CES, LAUS, nor ES-202 can measure multiple job holding. Wage records can. We continue to see the rate of multiple job holding climb over the three year period. We also see the rate of increase for the average wage slow down. In particular, the fourth quarter 1994 mean wage only increased by $53 from 1993 fourth quarter. That is a dramatic change from the previous year. This trend will become evident in other programs, such as the ES-202 program, six months from now.
Yes. By law we are bound to keep the data confidential. Wyoming Employment Security Law, 27-3-603, states that any "...information maintained pursuant to this act shall not be disclosed in a manner which reveals the identity of the employing unit or individual. The confidentiality limitations of this section do not apply to transfers of information between the divisions of the department of employment so long as the transfer of information is not restricted by federal law, rule or contract. Any employee who discloses information outside of the department in violation of federal or state law may be terminated without progressive discipline."
There are many trends in the summary data. At first glance we see that total wages have continued to increase over the three year period. Total annual wages increased from $3.9 billion to $4.3 billion. We also see that the total annual average social security number (SSN's) have increased from 204,196 people to 215,291 by the end of 1994. Furthermore, annual average wages have also increased. All these pieces of data seem to indicate that Wyoming's economy continues to grow. However, if we stop here we are really missing some important facts.
For example: from 1993 to 1994 wage records show that the total number of new SSN's decreased. New SSN's are an indication of people entering Wyoming's work force for the first time. In 1993 we had 61,649 new SSN's which were not identified in any previous quarter. At the end of 1994 we only had 54,969 new SSN's. That is a 10.8 percent decrease in people entering the labor force. If wage records show new people are not able to enter the labor force and the total number of people in the labor force are increasing, what is happening?
It appears that more people are entering the labor force and staying in it. People are holding on to their jobs which allows for less turn-over in the labor force. This diminished turn-over, or opportunity to get a job, affects people trying to enter the labor force. People entering the labor force typically come from schools and training programs.
Another trend in the wage survey data is that the annual average wage is not keeping up with inflation. From 1992 to 1994 the percent change in average wages has only increased by 4.6 percent. Just to keep up with inflation, we should have seen an increase around 6 percent. We have lost nearly one percentage point each year! If this is true, we should see some supporting evidence in wage record data.
A family experiencing the inflation squeeze may maintain their standard of income by putting more individuals to work or individuals in that family could take on a second job. Wage records should prove the multiple job theory out and they do.
We continue to see a trend towards multiple job holding. On an annual average, when comparing 1992 to 1994 we see 3,498 more people had two or more jobs by the end of 1994. We see an increase in people holding more than one job during the year and each quarter. On average multiple job holding seems to be minor, but when comparing quarters to each other, increases can be quite dramatic and steady.
One of the most promising uses of wage records is the ability to evaluate government and private job training programs. Universities, colleges, and job training programs can now be evaluated with the same standard (i.e. wages) for program effectiveness.
A standard is significant because programs can be evaluated before, during, and after services have been applied. Not only can programs be evaluated against themselves, but also against other competing options. In the past, evaluation relied on a self-reporting process. Self-reporting is expensive and results in data being biased. Just the differences in definitions can make it impossible to compare programs to each other.
The beauty of wage record analysis is that it is very inexpensive to maintain, is readily available and maintains work experience over time. Unlike surveys, wage records are unobtrusive and add no additional reporting burden on employers. Wage records can be linked to other data files currently available in Research & Planning. This linkage will further extend their use. In years to come, wage record analysis will become just as valuable as other statistical programs currently shown in Trends and will truly be a new way to look at Wyoming.
GENERAL DEFINITION OF TERMS USED IN THE TABLE:
The following is a brief explanation of the terms used in the report: