Unemployment Data

Ok, so I know most of you can dance circles around me in your knowledge of ACS and other DB's.  So, please forgive me for what might seem like a dumb question.  My strength is in the analytics side.  I am pulling some unemployment data for the state of MO, Jackson Co, MO and 6 zip codes.  I have been using a reputable community dashboard that aggregates a number of different data sources, including ACS.  

The unemployment data seems oddly low.  According to their reported data source listing this is as of Jan 2021.  It is reporting the State of MO workers at 1.3% (37,827) / Jackson Co., MO 1.98% (6,807) and 4.79% for 64123 (216) workers.  Now, I realize there might be some challenges in how they are defining/ aggregating "workers" since there are multiple classifications, i.e. seasonally adjusted, non-seasonally adjusted, etc.  And, this may be correct as the bls.gov reports the state of MO is 4.1% unemployment overall as of April 2021. 

When I go into ACS, I keep getting pushed to the 5 yr and 1 yr  datasets that go up to 2019.  I just want to cross check these states from the community dashboard because I am also looking at gender differences of the unemployed, particularly due to the inequities of mothers who have had the responsibilities of homeschooling during the pandemic along with some other correlating factors.

TIA for your suggestions/ help!!  :-)

  • Hi! First off, no need to apologize for any questions, questions are why this forum is here!

    The first thing to know is that there is no April 2021 ACS data. ACS data is released annually, and as you've found, the most recent estimates go up to 2019.

    State and county unemployment data likely come from the BLS's Local Area Unemployment Statistics, which does incorporate some ACS data for its estimates, but also pulls from other sources (notably the BLS's Current Population Survey, which is used to create their monthly national unemployment data). More info on that here: https://www.bls.gov/lau/lauov.htm. Note that this source doesn't have smaller areas, like census tracts or zip codes.

    The ACS does have unemployment data at small geographies, like zip codes. Small area data comes from the 5-year estimates, as that's the time required to collect a large enough sample of survey responses for these small areas. The most recent 5-year estimate covers 2015-2019 (so, a 5-year range centered around 2017). This is probably not your best bet for current unemployment rates, but it might give you a sense of how unemployment differs in different neighborhoods. It will be least helpful if the pandemic affected different populations differently (and someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but this may also be a shortcoming with the BLS LAU data).

    One takeaway here is that you might gently ask whoever made the dashboard to make their sources clearer, since it's pretty important that people know where their data comes from. Please ask any more questions you might have!