This edition of Central Texas Economy in Perspective looks at two annual surveys providing metro-level unemployment rates for different demographic groups.
Austin’s November unemployment rate of 3.3% is the third lowest among major metros according to Friday’s release of data for all U.S. metropolitan areas by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Minneapolis and Denver have the nation’s lowest rates—2.7% and 3.2% respectively. San Antonio and Dallas (7th and 8th) also place among the ten best performing metros.
All of the 50 largest metros have lower rates of unemployment than one year ago, except for Houston, which has seen unemployment climb from 4.3% to 4.9%.
Unemployment through November for Austin and the other large Texas metros was treated in detail in the December 22nd Central Texas Economy in Perspective article following the latest Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) release of Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data.
The monthly releases of data through the LAUS program provide estimates of the unemployment rate for the entire labor force of an area. Metro-level unemployment rates for different demographic groups, such as Hispanics, college graduates, etc., are not produced by the program. However, there are two other programs, based on sample surveys of the population, that offer expanded views of unemployment in local labor markets on an annual basis. Both programs released 2014 estimates in September.
Graphs below compare Austin and the U.S. in 2014, and also compare Austin in 2014 with 2009, after the commencement of the last recession, using these alternative datasets. For reference, the 2014 LAUS annual average unemployment rates for Austin and the U.S. were 4.2% and 6.2%, respectively. Austin's 2009 LAUS unemployment rate was 6.9%.
The BLS’s Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment
The BLS produces an annual Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment for Census regions and divisions, states, and large metropolitan areas and cities.
Estimates in this BLS report come from the Current Population Survey (CPS), the regular monthly survey of 60,000 households, conducted by the Census Bureau for the BLS, from which the national unemployment rate is derived. Because the estimates are based on a survey rather than on a complete census of the population, they are subject to sampling error. Also, where an estimate does not meet the reliability standard, estimates are suppressed.
According to the CPS, Austin's unemployment rate was 4.0% in 2014 and Austin had the second lowest rate of unemployment among large metros.
You are likely to have seen estimates of a wide variety of local demographics from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), an annual sample survey which replaced the “long form” questionnaire of the decennial census. ACS reports on workforce status (in the labor force, employed, and unemployed, etc.) for various population groups (veterans, senior citizens, college graduates, persons in poverty, etc.). However, ACS tabulates only employed persons by industry and by occupation. The CPS is distinctive in surveying the unemployed for the industry and occupation of their previous work experience, thus producing unemployment rates by industry and occupation.
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey
As noted above, the ACS is the Census Bureau’s annual sample survey estimating demographic, housing, social, and economic characteristics for households and the population. Every year, 3.5 million households respond to the survey. Workforce status, including unemployment, is tabulated across a number of other population characteristics such as age, sex, race and Hispanic origin, and educational attainment, as well as veteran, poverty, and disability status. ACS produces estimates for large geographic areas such as cities, counties and metros with 65,000+ population on an annual basis.
According the ACS, Austin's unemployment rate was 4.7% in 2014 and Austin tied with Denver for the lowest rate of unemployment among large metros.
The Chamber’s Economic Indicators page provides up-to-date historical spreadsheet versions of Austin, Texas and U.S. data for the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data addressed above.
Vice President of Research, Beverly Kerr, joined the Chamber’s Economic Development Department in 2004, following 10 years in a similar role with the Kansas City Area Development Council. Beverly earned an M.A. in economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.