By Chris Adams

The  Bureau of Labor Statistics is in the news the first Friday of every month with its assessment of the U.S. unemployment rate. It’s one of the most widely watched economic indicators in the nation – particularly in times of economic stress, where it has huge political considerations.

But the bureau produces far more than that one hotly watched number. In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, BLS experts showed ways journalists can use bureau data to report out state and local stories.

Among them:

The quarterly census of employment and wages details jobs and payroll numbers from employers covering more than 95 percent of U.S. jobs. It’s available at the county, metropolitan, state and national level by industry, with an easy-to-use data tool.

Want to know total employment in “vegetable and melon” farming in California, going back to 2001? That’s the kind of data available.

“We get something from every employer in the country,” said David Hiles of the BLS. “We are the most detailed local data set in the United States.”

The job openings and labor turnover survey – JOLTS – gives insight into the dynamics between hires and separations, showing how much movement there is in an area’s labor force. At the JOLTS data retrieval tool, users can, for example, track construction jobs in the South, drilling down to job openings, hires, and separations (quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations).

The local area unemployment statistics (data retrieval tool) allow reporters to review those important numbers down to the county and state level from 1990 on, and state numbers from 1976 on. On the day the BLS’ Susan Campolongo shared the data with NPF fellows, the unemployment rate in the U.S. metropolitan areas went from a low of 1.3% in Ames, Iowa, to a high of 21.2% in El Centro, California.