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Statistical Discrepancies among Sources: Unemployment Rates

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Recorded on April 23, 2010: 12-12:30 p.m.

Data discrepancies among different sources for the same statistic can create serious problems for policymakers. Which data source should they use? This investigation focuses on differences in 2008 annual unemployment rates for data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the U.S. Census. The study explains how the BLS and Census have different unemployment data while still citing the same source, the Local Area Unemployment Statistics program. The project then compares these data to Current Population Survey unemployment data. To provide policymakers with the best data, it is important to clarify why there are differences in data and make the best data readily available for the public. This is particularly important for policymakers and analysts because different data may support trends that do not exist.

Initial research questions: To understand the differences in the unemployment data, there are several research questions.

  • Where do discrepancies exist between data sources for the same statistic?
  • What are the differences in the sources’ methodologies creating the discrepancies in the data?
  • Are these differences meaningful? How? In what way are they affecting the data?
  • Why is this important for policy makers?

Click here to download the paper. Click here for the appendix.

This investigation was completed by students in Dr. Gail Corrado’s Public Policy 698 course. Members of the PLCY 698 course undertake various policy-related projects with local clients for an entire semester, aspiring to achieve solutions for real world problems. The principal investigators for this study are Natassia Rodriguez and Sam Wurzelmann. The PLCY 698 co-investigators are Alicia Heaney, Iris Lattimore, Jonathan Mauney, Cindy Ngwalla. The PLCY 325 (a weekly policy development clinic) co-investigators are Matt Clark, Brittany Johnson, and Brandy Price. Class advisors for the project are Dr. Gail Corrado and Shanyce Campbell. Odum Institute liaisons include Jonathan Crabtree, Ed Bachmann, and Andrew Munn.