Did losing the long-form census weaken Canada’s jobs data?

toronto-census-nhs-756x1024More on the Census and National Household Survey, and Kevin Milligan’s analysis of how the shift has degraded the quality of the Labour Force Survey:

I say ‘presumably’ because the most recent complete methodology document I can find is from 2008. In that 2008 methodology document, it is very clear that the Census plays a very important role in the methodology of the Labour Force Survey. In fact, a quick ‘control F’ search of the document reveals the word ‘census’ to appear 127 times. Looking through these instances, you can see the Long-Form Census was used in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it was to cross-check an assumption or a decision they made in designing the Labour Force Survey. In other places, it is clear they used the Long-Form Census explicitly to pick which households get surveyed. To give one precise example, page 19 of the methodology document explicitly references income taken from the 2001 Census—and income is not available on the Short-Form Census.

In short, I think Mr. Smith’s ‘myth’ is a miss.

I have complete confidence in Mr. Smith’s claim that the 2015 Labour Force Survey methodology now uses only the Short-Form Census for selecting and weighting households. However, it is equally clear that until now the Labour Force Survey relied on the Long-Form Census. This change raises several important questions: Why make a change? Why was the National Household Survey discarded? Is the Labour Force Survey improved by ignoring the National Household Survey? Why and how?

I have a pretty good guess why Statistics Canada discarded its own expensive National Household Survey for designing the Labour Force Survey. The reason: the response rate from the National Household Survey is low, and varies strongly within regions. As one example, above is a map made by Dwight Follick that compares the response rate at the ‘dissemination area’ level for Toronto from the 2006 Long-Form Census and the 2011 National Household Survey. Similar maps are available from Mr. Follick for Montreal, Ottawa, London, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The pictures aren’t pretty—the response rate fell dramatically, rendering the results of the National Household Survey much less reliable.

Mr. Smith might be correct that the Labour Force Survey methodology changes aren’t large enough to make much difference. But we will never actually know, since we can’t compare the new results to the previous methodology because the 2011 Long-Form Census doesn’t exist so we can’t check.

I will continue to use and trust the Labour Force Survey, myself. However, the switch to the National Household Survey has degraded some of the tools that Statistics Canada has used until now to make the Labour Force Survey—and other Statistics Canada products—reliable.

Did losing the long-form census weaken Canada’s jobs data? – Macleans.ca.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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