Study says jobless rate in growing areas inflated

10/21/2002 12:00:00 AM
Todd Foltz

(Oct. 21) BRAWLEY, Calif. — To hear the government tell it, Alex Jack should be finding workers climbing over each other to work on his family’s farm. After all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2000, the unemployment rate in the area was 21%.

Nonetheless, when he puts in requests for a dozen or more workers with California’s Employment Development Department, frequently only one or two worker hopefuls, if that, turn up.

“We have a call in now for five irrigators and eight general ranchers, and we had one guy show up this morning,” Jack, owner of Jack Bros. Inc., said Oct. 4. “It’s getting to where we’ll elevate the numbers we need to make sure we get the minimum we absolutely have to have, and we’ll still be lucky to get two.”

Jack Bros., which was founded in 1915, was Western Growers Association’s first member. Labor woes at the company, which grows lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, melons and tomatoes in California’s Imperial County, is one of many examples indicating a problem with the way the Bureau of Labor Statistics quantifies employment numbers in the county, as well as in nearby Yuma, Ariz., according to WGA.

The problem not only masks the difficulties growers have in finding labor, but it also calls into question the accuracy of unemployment funds allocated by the government.

In fact, WGA commissioned a university study that was released the last week of September that calls into question labor statistics bureau employment numbers for those border areas, concluding unemployment figures are distorted by 50%.

The study, conducted by Gerry Schmaedick, a Yuma-based senior lecturer at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, compared unemployment statistics from the 1990 and 2000 censuses with bureau results from 1990 and 2000.

In Imperial County, bureau figures for 1990 and 2000 designated an unemployment rate of 20% and 21%, respectively. But the census data found rates of 12% and 14%, respectively.

The disparity also exists in the border area of Yuma, Schmaedick said. Labor statistics bureau figures showed Yuma County’s unemployment rate was 18% in 1990 and 21% in 2000. But census data for the same periods show unemployment rates of 11% and 12%, respectively.

“Weaknesses in the Bureau of Labor Statistics methodologies and lack of funding for data collection have led to these distortions,” Schmaedick said. “State analysts have had to rely on incomplete and insufficient data.”


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