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Real measures of financial success exist and include indicators such as poverty, per capita income, and unemployment. However, to capture the fuller meaning of prosperity, it is also critical to gauge residents’ self-assessment of quality of life using surveys or interviews.

Job Growth

Job growth can be calculated using the Current Employment Statistics (CES) data set from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS compiles the data monthly from payroll records at more than 390,000 businesses in the nation. Data is available on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on non-farm payrolls for all 50 states and over 270 metropolitan areas. Job growth is calculated as the percentage growth of the labor force from the previous year. The data can be presented showing year over year labor force growth for the MSA, state, and the U.S. for comparison. The data can be found on the BLS web site (www.bls.gov/sae).

Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is defined as the percentage of the population actively seeking employment that is not currently employed. The BLS publishes unemployment rates in the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) section of its web site (www.bls.gov/lau). LAUS produces monthly and annual employment, unemployment, and labor force data for Census regions and divisions, states, counties, metropolitan areas, and many cities, by place of residence. For regional analysis, time-series data can be collected at the MSA, state, and national levels for benchmarking purposes.

Average Wage

Regional wage data is available from two national sources: the BLS and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Regional Economic Accounts database. The BLS publishes wage data by state, MSA, and county in its Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Users can download various data (e.g., average weekly wage and average annual pay) and search by NAICS industry and size of establishment. The BLS data is located at www.bls.gov/cew. The BEA publishes average wage per job data for states, MSAs, and counties from 1969 to 2003. The BEA data is found at www.bea.gov/bea/regional/reis.

Per Capita Income

Per capita income is perhaps the most widely-cited statistic for assessing standard of living. The BEA provides detailed income data in the Regional Economic Accounts database. Per capita income and other income measures are available at the state, MSA, and county levels. Calculating compound annual growth rates (CAGR) for the last three decades and showing data for the region or MSA, state, and the nation provides useful context for the data. The BEA data is located at www.bea.gov/bea/regional/reis.

Median Household Income

Median household income is another useful measure, because it minimizes the effect of the very high-income families in a region and therefore provides a more accurate picture of the “average” household’s standard of living. Median household income data can be found in the decennial Census from Summary File 2. Data can be collected for either the  MSA, or if unavailable, compiled from each county and weighted by population. Summary File 2 data can be accessed through the Census American FactFinder web site (http://factfinder.census.gov). More recent estimates of income for states and most metro areas are available in the annual American Community Survey, also available on the FactFinder page.

Income Growth by Ethnicity

Inequality is a weakness that undermines regional economic performance. For example, disparity in income data according to race or gender can signal underlying social problems that limit the productivity potential of a region’s entire workforce. Data on income growth by ethnicity is collected in the decennial Census and published in Summary File 2. Data can be collected for either the MSA, or if unavailable, compiled from each county and weighted by population. Formatting the data in terms of minority percentage of white, per-capita income is a straightforward way to assess inequalities in the regional economy.

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