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How to Interpret the Trade Adjustment Assistance Data

Q. What is the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program?

 A. The TAA program is administered by the Department of Labor and allows workers, unions, and companies to apply for training and temporary income assistance for workers who have been laid off due to rising imports or offshoring.

 Q. Can the database tell me how many workers lost their jobs due to the implementation of NAFTA and other bilateral free trade agreements?

 A. No. There is probably a high number of jobs lost, but the government doesn't keep detailed records on this type of information. However, information is available on the number of workers or factories that met the eligibility requirements for the TAA program, which itself is narrow and difficult to qualify for. Besides petitions that were certified under the NAFTA-TAA program that operated 1994-2002, no country information was recorded for petitions that were submitted before 2003. Country information has been recorded for only about half of the records submitted since 2003. Hence, when you search for a specific country, the records in the search results represent only a small portion of the total number of jobs lost to that country that were certified under the TAA program.

 Q. Can the database tell me how many workers lost their jobs due to the U.S. implementation of all trade agreements?

 A. The United States implemented the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) that created the World Trade Organization (WTO) on January 1, 1995. This multilateral trade agreement encompasses nearly all of world trade. Hence, nearly all the jobs certified under TAA since 1995 were lost to countries that are in a multilateral trade agreement with the United States. The Public Citizen database incorporates records dating back to 1994. The Department of Labor's criteria for certifying job losses include changes in the volume of imports and the offshoring of production. The Department of Labor does not attempt to ascertain whether the implementation of a trade agreement is the root cause of the job loss.  Therefore, the layoffs in this database represent layoffs due to trade with trade agreement partners, but whether the implementation of the agreements caused a specific layoff is very difficult to prove statistically and is not directly addressed.

Q. Does the TAA program cover total U.S. job losses due to trade?

A. The TAA program is a significant undercount of total U.S. jobs lost to trade. It is limited by several factors. First, a worker or union or company or state labor department must know to apply for the program and choose to do so. Unlike the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), there is no affirmative reporting requirement. Then, if someone knows to apply, it requires initiative to obtain the information to file a petition and make the case that the job losses are trade related. The program is so difficult to qualify for that some unions direct workers to other assistance programs. The next hurdle is that the program only covers a subset of jobs lost to offshoring. The criteria have changed several times since the 1990s, but during the mass layoffs related to NAFTA it only covered a subset of the jobs lost at manufacturing facilities. Even if an entire auto plant relocated to Mexico, only those workers directly engaged in manufacturing line activities could qualify. Service sector workers have largely been excluded although in more recent years some service sector job losses due to trade can qualify.


 Q. How does the Department of Labor decide whether a petition should be certified or denied?

 A. The eligibility requirements are explained on the Department of Labor’s website here.

 Q. What does the “Est. No. Workers” column represent?  

 A. According to the Department of Labor, this value represents “Estimated number of workers that have been separated from trade affected employment as calculated during the investigation.  This number includes employment reductions through attrition and is not a calculation of layoffs.” Attrition occurs when workers leave a job of their own accord and the employer chooses not to replace them.

 Q. What does the “Country” column represent?  

 A. According to the Department of Labor, this “Country” column represents “Country affecting worker group.” In other words, it is the country to which production was outsourced or the source of the imports that displaced the workers, depending on the cause of the layoffs.  The information in this column should be used with great caution due to the high rate of missing information. Besides petitions that were certified under the NAFTA-TAA program that operated 1994-2002, no country information was recorded for petitions that were submitted before 2003. Country information has been recorded for only about half of the records submitted since 2003.

 Q. What does “Layoff Date” represent?

 A. According to the Department of Labor, the “Layoff Date” represents “The date stated in a certification of eligibility to apply for TAA on which the total or partial separations of the workers covered by the certification began or threatened to begin.” The Department of Labor refers to this date as the “Impact Date.”

 Q. Is this database different from the TAA database previously available on your website?

 A. Yes. This database differs substantially from an older version of the database, available here. The most important difference is that the new database merges the TAA and NAFTA-TAA database records in a way that avoids double-counting. An individual using the old database who checked the boxes to display both the TAA and NAFTA-TAA records often would encounter records that referred to the same instance of job loss, since job losses could be certified under both programs. For an explanation of how the merger of the two databases was accomplished, please visit the technical documentation of the database here.

 Unlike the old database, the new database contains petition records that were denied certification so that data users can get a sense of the rate of petition denial. To exclude denied petitions from your search results, uncheck the “denied petitions” checkbox under the “Cause” option.

 The old version of the database displayed city and state as the only indicators of where the workplace was located, whereas the new version contains information on the congressional district, county, and metropolitan area of the workplace. Examine the technical documentation of the database here for information on how the congressional district, county, and metropolitan area of each location was determined. The new database also contains information on the country of origin of imports that precipitated the layoffs or the country to which production was outsourced for a limited number of records. The old database only contained country information when the petition was certified under the NAFTA-TAA program that operated 1994-2002.

 The new database does not display the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes of the articles produced by workers, unlike the old database, because we sought to limit the total number of columns displayed due to webpage formatting concerns. Finally, the new database displays the date that layoffs began rather than the date that the Department of Labor certified the petition, which was the case with the old database.

 Q. Can I download my search results?

 A. Downloading search results into an Excel-compatible CSV file is a planned feature of the database search interface, but it has not yet been implemented. For now, we recommend submitting a search and copying each table in the results pages into a spreadsheet program such as Excel for easier data handling.  Alternatively, you can download the entire dataset here and manipulate it using Excel’s autofilter feature, a database program, or a statistical software environment such as R.

Q. How should I cite this data?

A. If you choose to cite data from this database, please consider the following fact/citation format: "The Department of Labor certified [NUMBER] workers in [GEOGRAPHIC AREA] as having lost their jobs to imports or outsourcing during the NAFTA-WTO era. Source: Public Citizen. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Consolidated Petitions Database. Washington, DC,"

Q. Why does the Department of Labor's TAA data dictionary on your website say that the database has 35 fields, but your online interface has only a handful?

A. The TAA database that we received from the Department of Labor contained those 35 fields in the data dictionary, but we did not place all of those fields into the online database because a webpage simply could not reasonably render all of them. We chose to upload only those fields that the majority of users might find useful. As the data dictionary shows, there is a field for the name of the certifying DOL officer, the investigator, and all sorts of other variables that are superfluous for the purpose of understanding how offshoring has affected American workers.

Q. Why does the Department of Labor's TAA data dictionary on your website have "Country1", "Country2", and "Country3" fields, while your database has only one "Country" field?

A. The Country1, Country2, and Country3 fields in the original database were combined into the single "Country" field in the online database. It is worth noting that many records had multiple countries listed in single Country field, especially if there were more than three countries implicated in the job loss. For example, one record might have "Argentina, Chile" in the original Country1 field, "Brazil, France" in Country2, and "Spain" in Country3. The way that this record would be displayed in the online database is "Argentina, Chile, Brazil, France, Spain" in the "Country" field.

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