--2 Ghost Jobs: Tracking Stimulus Employment And Workforce Trends
March 23, 2017

Ghost Jobs: Tracking Stimulus Employment And Workforce Trends

May 12, 2010, 12:00 am
By Corey Pein
The latest Indicators column touches on a subject SFR has covered at length: The discrepancy between the estimated number of jobs funded by federal stimulus money, and employment figures compiled by the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

Both sets of numbers have reliability problems of their own. Accuracy aside, knowing where to find this government data is a challenge in and of itself.

Let's start with the stimulus.

The stimulus—shorthand for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—is a maddening beast. The dollar sums run into the billions, while the performance and accountability measures defy comprehension.

There are several ways to track all that money, and the jobs it's supposedly producing: ProPublica's database is probably the cleanest and simplest.

What if you want to go to the original source? Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

The New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment has a "reports" page with very vague summaries of how and where stimulus money will be spent, in PDF form.

To get into the department-by-department detail, click on the link for "New Mexico's 1512 reports" (a bureaucratic term of art that doesn't bear explaining here).

I hesitate to send anyone down this path. The state page is the most up-to-date source of information on many New Mexico stimulus projects. But bear in mind—this is important—that the state Recovery Office only tracks stimulus money that gets funneled through state government. Lots more money goes directly to cities, counties and tribes. None of that gets accounted for at the state Recovery site.

For more comprehensive information, go directly to the feds' page, Recovery.gov. The "download center" there provides the quickest way to access a database of all the stimulus projects in New Mexico—or anywhere in the country. The feds have compiled all this from quarterly reports by stimulus recipients (hence the jargon, "recipient-reported data").

Look for New Mexico's postal abbreviation in that long list—"NM_Y10Q1"—and download the Excel or CSV file, per your preference.

Be warned, these are large databases. They're not designed to be easy to read. Cut down on the clutter by right-clicking and hiding any columns from view that have useless information.

Then, turn on Excel's "auto filter" function, which will let you sort through the information quickly to find what you're looking for.

Column "S" in the spreadsheet contains the name of the stimulus recipients. Columns "AG" and "AK" contain descriptions of the projects.

Column "AN" shows the number of jobs associated with a particular project. Most projects, you'll see, create very few jobs, if any.

Now, on to the employment numbers.

Workforce Solutions' data is compiled online at LASER, which stands for Labor something something something. The name isn't important. What's important is where to track statewide employment trends by occupation, as SFR did this in this week's column.

Don't ask me why the menus on this website are so byzantine. That's just how it is.

From the main LASER page, select "employment and wage data" in the lefthand column. Select "industry data," then "Current Employment Statistics (CES)."

At this point, you can refine your search geographically. That is to say, if you only wanted to look at jobs numbers in Santa Fe, then you'd select it here. For now, select New Mexico from the drop-down menu. Then—because unnecessary extra steps are a defining feature of government websites—click the "select" button.

The next step asks you to select a time period from a scrollable list going back several years. To select non-consecutive months, hold the command (or Apple) key, and click on only the months you want to view. Like this:

Next—and here's the fun part—select the industries or sectors you want to track. For example, SFR tallied state and local government educational services—i.e., public schools and universities.

After all that, the LASER machine should churn up a table that looks something like this:

Note that the Workforce data can be downloaded into an Excel spreadsheet, too. Someone with a lot of time and a knack for chartography could perhaps combine this info and the stimulus to map not only where stimulus jobs are going, but how they're contributing to the overall employment picture in a given state or city.

Cross-posted at Muckraker's Guide.


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