California Fires and November 2018 payroll data

Background:

November added to the worst wildfire season in California’s history. The state has seen a total of 7,510 fires burning an area of 1,671,313 acres, the largest amount of burned acreage recorded. The fires have caused more than $10 billion in damages, including $1.79 billion in fire suppression costs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared 3 counties eligible for individual and public federal disaster assistance.

Summary:

After a thorough review of November 2018 National-level data, it appears that the California fires had no discernible effect on payroll employment. It is possible that employment in some industries was affected by the disaster; however, it is not possible to quantify the net impact because the CES survey is not designed to isolate effects from catastrophic events on CES employment, hours, and earnings.

BLS closely monitored, and continues to monitor, collection rates in the affected areas. For the first preliminary November 2018 national estimates, the collection rates were within normal range for the nation and for the affected areas. (CES national collections rates are available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesregrec.htm.) Therefore, BLS did not modify its methodology. BLS will continue to monitor collection rates in the affected areas for upcoming releases of employment data, including for the State Employment and Unemployment release on December 21, 2018.

The remainder of this webpage provides answers to questions related to the California Fires and November 2018 payroll data.

How many jobs are in the disaster areas?

According to BLS’s Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, about 4,834,000 workers were employed in March 2018 in the FEMA-designated disaster counties and represented about 3.3 percent of national employment. Not all workers are within the scope of the CES survey. Farm laborers, the self-employed, and workers in households, for example, are excluded from the CES.

Establishments and employment in disaster counties
State Establishments* Employment* Percent of National CES Employment

California

528,241 4,833,744 3.3
*Establishments and employment for March 2018 represent actual counts from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

How did BLS collect data from businesses in the areas affected by the wildfires and how will BLS continue data collection in those areas?

BLS collected data from businesses using normal collection procedures. However, BLS will continue to monitor data collection within the affected areas for the second preliminary and final estimates. The CES sample has just over 7,203 active reporting units in the disaster areas, representing 2.3 percent of the entire CES active sample.

CES sample in disaster counties
State Worksites Percent of sample

California

7,203 2.3

Nearly 60 percent of the sample in the affected areas is collected by means of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). EDI is a method of collection which involves multi-establishment firms. Under EDI, the firm provides an electronic file to CES each month in a prescribed file format, which includes data for all of the firm's establishments. This one file transmitted to CES each month is sent from a single source. Since these sources are located mostly outside of the impacted areas, BLS expected and received normal EDI response in November.

Data are also collected by CES Data Collection Centers primarily through computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI), representing 31 percent of the active sample in the affected areas. Self-reporting via the web accounts for another 11 percent of the sample in these areas. Nonresponse prompts are typically emailed to respondents approximately 10 days prior to the initial collection deadline; a week before the initial collection deadline, those who have not responded will also receive a phone call reminder. A final round of nonresponse email prompts are sent the morning of the initial collection deadline. BLS expected, and received, normal CATI and web-based response in November.

Sample distribution by collection method in disaster counties in California
All disaster counties Worksites Percent distribution

CATI

2,226 31

EDI

4,129 57

WEB

815 11

OTHER

33 1

Total

7,203 100
How is employment defined by the payroll survey?

The fires caused large-scale evacuations and severe damage to many homes and businesses. In the CES survey, employees who are not paid for any part of the pay period that includes the 12th of the month are not counted as employed. Consider, for example, that an establishment is completely destroyed and there is no place to work. If the company pays workers during the designated pay period, CES still considers those workers to be employed. If, on the other hand, an individual does not work or receive pay for any part of the reference pay period, that individual is not counted as employed.

Was there a surge in employment caused by paid emergency workers who went to the disaster area?

Emergency workers are counted by their employer’s established location, even if they are working in the disaster area. Volunteer workers are not counted as employed if they are not paid. Individuals called to active duty for the National Guard are considered to be on active military duty and are outside of the scope of the CES survey. If they were employed when called to duty, their pay status determines whether or not they are counted. If the employer pays the individuals for any part of the reference pay period, they are counted as employed. The paid individual is counted as employed regardless of the type of pay, such as pay for actual work time, paid leave, or a pay adjustment to make up the difference between an employee’s regular pay and their military pay.

Did CES estimation procedures change or will they change in upcoming releases of November 2018 data?

The CES program reviewed, and continues to review, all aspects of its estimation procedures to determine if any changes are necessary. For the first preliminary release of November 2018 national estimates, the CES program determined that no modifications to current methodology would be made because the collection rates in the affected areas were within normal ranges. BLS will continue to monitor the situation and any modifications to the methods for national CES estimates will be explained with the upcoming releases, as appropriate. Any potential modifications to methods for states and areas will be explained with the State Employment and Unemployment news release on December 21, 2018.

 

Last Modified Date: December 7, 2018