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Sac Bee uses Census to track unemployment by college major

Fast-food worker by Flickr user nateOne

Reporters at the Sacramento Bee analyzed Census data to find that those with theater degrees were eight times more likely to be employed in the food-service industry than accounting majors. Photo by Flickr user nateOne.

Phillip Reese and Laurel Rosenhall of the Sacramento Bee used U.S. Census Bureau data to look at how college majors affect employment in California. They found that philosophy graduates last year were about five times as likely to be unemployed as nursing graduates, and that theater majors were “about eight times as likely to work in the food services industry as those with accounting degrees.”

Today’s Tip: Use the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files to query data from the Census’ American Community Survey, Phillip says.

He says the American Community Survey data cover hundreds of topics at local, state and national levels. “The Public Use Microdata Sample files, or PUMS, are a sample of the actual responses to the American Community Survey and include most population and housing characteristics,” according to the Census.

Phillip Reese, reporter, Sacramento Bee

Phillip Reese

You can ask very detailed questions about your community using PUMS, Phillip says, and if you can use Access or another database-management software, you can analyze PUMS.

“I downloaded the PUMS file and the data dictionary and built queries to calculate unemployment rates and earnings by major, in an attempt to see which degrees were the most valuable financially,” he says.

Phillip says the story needs to be done at the state level or in large metropolitan areas because with a small population, the margin of error is high.

“There’s still ways to do it closer to the ground, but you’ll have to use categories for majors, e.g., humanities instead of English, history, philosophy, etc.” he says.

For more information on how to mine the Census for business-story ideas, check out the free Reynolds Center workshops on that topic on Jan. 31 in Philadelphia or April 7 in Dallas, before the Society of American Business Editors and Writers Conference.


About the Author

Rosland Gammon is a former business journalist turned college instructor. Her newsroom experience includes reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and reporting and editing at Bloomberg News. Gammon currently teaches communications at Alverno College in Milwaukee. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Rosland Gammon

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