The Washington Employment Security Department has released their employment and unemployment estimates for June 2014. The estimate of non-farm employed has risen to 217,900. This is generally in line with the expected progression for Spokane County.
(See correction, below – there is no problem here –>) Oddly, the chart curve at left is different than what is shown in the data table. In June of 2013 there were 216,200 people, and this rose to 217,900 on June 2014. Look at the horizontal red line added to the chart at left – the 2014 peak is shown as less than a year ago. The chart does not agree with the data table. Something is wrong here and the State needs to fix it or explain what is happening.
Correction: The problem is the X-Axis does not have month tics which led to the confusion. The peak in 2013 was in November, not mid-year. Spokane has an employment pattern that peaks twice then collapses on January 1st. The chart is correct but confusing when paired with the table. The table will likely show employment at about 220,00o in November of this year and 220,000+ at November of 2015.
The unemployment rate is the percent of those “in the labor force” age 16-64, that are looking for work but are not yet employed.
The unemployment rate has gone down for two reasons: (1) more people are estimated to be employed, and (2) the size of the labor force is smaller.
Each of those values is an estimate and the short term (monthly) estimates can vary due to the confidence of the estimate.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says the 90% confidence interval for the national employment estimates is + or – 0.2%. That means there is a 9 in 10 chance the actual employment number lies within + or – 0.2% of what they publish as the official estimate. The estimate is not exact because they survey only a sample of the population – consequently, the estimate will be off by a bit from the actual number (which we would only know if we could survey every single person in the country).
The State of Washington uses a subset of their national survey but does not appear to provide a confidence interval (they might but it was not immediately located).
Washington’s web site for the American Community Survey (derived from US Census, not BLS), for Spokane County in 2012, has an estimate of about 210,130 employed with a confidence interval of + or – 1.1%. That is a different survey and cannot be directly compared with the ESD numbers from the US BLS. But … it helps us understand that the unemployment estimate is just an estimate with an associated but not disclosed confidence interval.
We would be better served with numbers such as May 2014: 6.6% + or – 0.2% (we don’t know that 0.2% if the right value – this is for an example only) and June is 5.6% + or – 0.2%. That means for May, hypothetically, the actual unemployment percentile could be anywhere in the range 6.4 to 6.8% and for June 5.4 to 5.8%. If the confidence interval is larger, then the range is going to be larger too.