Employment Data: Working on a Mystery
This blog flagged, and Worthwhile Canadian Initiative pursued, a striking discrepancy in Julyâ€™s employment data. The Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours (SEPH) indicated that employers paid 74,000 more employees.
Conversely, the Labour Force Survey (LFS) had indicated that employers paid 79,000 fewer employees in July. This difference of 153,000 exceeds 1% of Canadaâ€™s workforce.
While these numbers imply another large discrepancy (148,000), it almost exactly offsets theÂ previous one. Combining July and August, SEPH indicates a decrease of 36,000 and LFS indicates a very similar decrease of 41,000.
Statistics Canada addresses this issue specifically in todayâ€™s SEPH release. It helpfully notes important differences with LFS and points out that the two sources identify congruent trends over several months, if not in each individual month.
The basic message, I think, is that survey data bounce around a bit from one month to the next. So, we should not be shocked when the two surveys bounce in opposite directions in any particular month.
The problem is that this dynamic aggravates other limitations in Canadaâ€™s labour-market data. Earlier this week, The Globe and Mail noted the lack of current data on exhaustion of Employment Insurance benefits.
When the Employment Insurance rolls shrink in a particular month, checking whether employment rose or fell that month provides at least some indication of whether people left their benefit claims because they found work or ran out of benefits without finding jobs.
However, if SEPH and LFS provide mixed signals for a given month, then even such back-of-envelope analysis may be impossible. (In practice, I mostly just use LFS because SEPH comes out after the Employment Insurance figures.)