Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Agricultural Employment – The Census of Agriculture Gives a More Complete Picture

By Matt Schroeder, Regional Economist

Farming, (or more generally, agriculture) is obviously an important part of the economy, so why is that when you hear employment statistics reported in the news, you typically hear them reported as “nonfarm” employment?

“Nonfarm payroll employment” is terminology from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), and the term is slightly misleading. There is, in fact, some data on agricultural employment in the QCEW data typically reported, it’s just not complete. QCEW employment data is based on administrative records from employers who pay into the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, so workers not covered under UI laws are not captured. Agricultural employers are generally exempt from the requirements for UI coverage, so the data are simply not comprehensive enough to calculate reliable estimates. Furthermore, many agricultural operations are sole-proprietorships that are also exempt from UI coverage (whether in agriculture or not), so those individuals are not recorded either.

All of this comes down to the fact that the typical “nonfarm” employment statistics you hear about in the news, on average, do not include roughly 90 percent of Utah’s agricultural employment. In 2012, QCEW reported fewer than 5,000 employees in “Covered Agriculture” for the whole state, which represented less than one half of one percent of Utah’s total employment.

Fortunately, the Census of Agriculture, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture once every five years, gives a revealing picture of the agricultural sector. The most recent data, covering 2012, were released last May 2015. The Agricultural Census surveys all of those UI-exempt farms that the QCEW misses and found that there were nearly 47,000 jobs in agriculture in 2012 — more than 3.5 percent of Utah’s total employment.

The share is not quite as large in the Wasatch Front North region, where agriculture represents about 2.6 percent of the local economy — according to the Census of Agriculture. But this is a much larger share than the 0.4 percent suggested by the QCEW. Weber and Davis counties respectively rank 4th and 9th in the state in terms of total agricultural employment. Morgan County is relatively small in total number, but agriculture’s share of all Morgan County jobs is more than 30 percent.