By Olivia Garrett April 29, 2019

Is the unemployment rate in Columbia among the lowest in the U.S.?

Missouri Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch has been working since 2017 to pass a bill that would prevent the state from prohibiting felons and other convicted criminals from working for businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets.

During a discussion of the bill on April 1, Reisch brought up the job market in her district, pointing to low unemployment.

"We have an unemployment [rate of] 1.5 in Boone County, and we can’t find enough workers," Reisch said. "This [bill] will allow employers to hire felons if they want to."

We decided to see if these unemployment figures hold up. When asked where she got her data, Reisch explained that she was referring to a figure that measured the unemployment rate in the Columbia, MO Metropolitan Statistical Area, which consists of Boone County, during October 2017, citing a Columbia Tribune article.

Reisch’s claims do match the preliminary statistics found in a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics news report released in November 2017, but more recent data shows that the unemployment rate has not stayed the same.

The unemployment rate measures the number of unemployed people, which refers to those who were not employed during the time of measurement, were currently available for work and were actively looking for a job, as a percent of the civilian labor force.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the average monthly unemployment rate in Columbia was 2.6 percent in February 2019. Unemployment rate varies seasonally, meaning that rates in October usually are lower than rates in February. In 2018, the average yearly unemployment rate was 2.4 percent.

Since 2010, unemployment rates in Columbia have been falling. For comparison, the unemployment rate in Columbia was 2.6 percent in February 2018 and 3.2 percent in February 2017.

This difference between Reisch’s 1.5 percent and the 2018 annual estimate of 2.4 percent is the difference between "a very tight labor market and a very, very tight labor market," Michigan State University economics professor Steve Woodbury said in an email.

Is this difference statistically significant? The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not release confidence intervals for metropolitan statistical area unemployment rates, but we do know that these estimates are subject to sampling and other errors.

Compared to other cities and towns in the U.S., Columbia does have a low unemployment rate.

When Reisch has repeated her claim on unemployment in the past, she has included this in her talking points.

"This [the 1.5 percent figure] is the second-lowest [unemployment rate] in the country," Reisch said on March 28. "We cannot find enough employees.  We would like to put these felons to work. We need them to avoid recidivism and make a better live for themselves and their families."

Reisch said she based this claim on the same Bureau of Labor Statistics Data from October 2017. As of February 2019, Columbia is actually tied for the spot of 10th-lowest unemployment rate.

There are several possible explanations for the low unemployment rate in Reisch’s district.

Bernie Andrews, Executive Director of Regional Economic Development Inc., a Columbia and Boone County economic development organization, notes that Columbia has a diverse business economy based on stable industries such as education, health care and insurance.

In addition, Columbia and Boone County both have high rates of education. The unemployment rate for people with a college education is lower than that of the average civilian population.

According to Census data, 54.3 percent of people 25 or older in Columbia have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For Boone County, that figure is 45.9 percent. In comparison, the national average is 30.9 percent.

Our rating

Reisch said, "We have an unemployment [rate of] 1.5 in Boone County, and we can’t find enough workers."

Reisch’s figures do not reflect the most recent data, but her point that her district has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation still stands.

We rate this statement Half True.

Our Sources

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Unemployment Rate in Columbia, MO (MSA), accessed on April 24, 2019

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment — October 2017, Nov. 30, 2017

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment Rates for Metropolitan Areas, Not Seasonally Adjusted, accessed April 24, 2019

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, accessed April 24, 2019

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Unemployment rate 2.1 percent for college grads, 4.3 percent for high school grads in April 2018, May 10, 2018

U.S. Census Bureau, 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, accessed on April 24, 2019

Interview with Bernie Andrews, Regional Economic Development Inc. executive director, April 24, 2019

Email exchange with Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, April 10, 2019

Email exchange with Steve Woodward, Michigan State University, economics professor, April 17, 2019

Columbia Tribune, Columbia’s October unemployment rate second lowest in nation, Dec. 1, 2017

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