Until 2013, public workforce and education programs have not been able to easily evaluate their effectiveness or improve implementation by consistently accessing data about the wages and employment of New Yorkers that they serve.
But that data is, in fact, already collected. All employers covered under New York State's Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program are required by law to report the gross wages of each employee out to State authorities on a quarterly basis. These records of individual earnings comprise the Wage Reporting System (WRS), which is owned and maintained by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. A 1995 amendment to the State Tax Law granted the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) access to WRS data for the purpose of administering the State's UI Program. State Labor Law Section 537 governs local government access to WRS records. Historically, the terms of State Labor Law Section 537 have allowed NYSDOL to narrowly construe WRS access by local governments and their agencies. State authorities have traditionally only disclosed WRS data under very limited circumstances. In contrast, many states – including California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas – provide interagency access to WRS for the assessment of public programs.
Especially given a struggling economy and constrained public budgets, it is critical to make informed, evidence-based decisions about allocating scarce resources in order to provide continued, high-quality service delivery to citizens. Public agencies need consistent access to WRS data to fully understand the impact of workforce and education programs across public and private funding streams. In Fiscal Year 2014, for instance, New York City is spending over $500 million on workforce development and training programs, but only has limited information on the efficacy of these programs. City agencies and their contractors must improvise costly, incomplete and inefficient methods to track and verify the individual outcomes of their respective program participants. The end result is that local policymakers lack objective information to help identify which public programs are most effective at educating, employing, or training New Yorkers.
To address this challenge, OHCD spearheaded a strong coalition of support to pass bill A7911B / S5773A, which was championed by Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens and Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on October 23, 2013. Starting December 22, 2013, the law allows public agencies greater access to the dates, wages, places, and industries of employment for individuals.
Helping to shepherd this legislation from conceptualization to enactment, OHCD determined the legislative approach to pursue, drafted bill language, met with legislators, mobilized support from partner organizations, worked with City agencies to prepare background materials and examples of how the City could make use of the data, and more.
Since the passage of the legislation, OHCD continued to lead the way in ensuring smooth and successful implementation. OHCD collaborated with City and State coalition partners in anticipation of the law going into effect. OHCD also helped coordinate agency-specific and system-wide research agendas for New York City to fully leverage our increased access to the WRS data. In the first quarter of 2014, a handful of City agencies already submitted requests to state, including:
- City University of New York to evaluate how wages vary across majors and colleges, and to assess if specific programs have an impact on labor market outcomes. This will help the university generally align curricula to workforce needs;
- NYC Department of Homeless Services to assess the outcomes of a pilot program to help single men in homeless shelters find jobs and stay employed through a better case management system;
- NYC Human Resources Administration to better understand long-term employment outcomes of eligible New Yorkers who receive temporary cash assistance and who receive job training and placement services across a wide range of HRA programs – such as “Back 2 Work” (for a broad base of benefit applicants and recipients); “WeCARE” (for clients with medical and/or mental health barriers); and “Business Link” (to match employers with qualified job candidates); and transitional jobs opportunities in partnership with City agencies
On April 1, 2014, OHCD convened a "WRS 101" session in collaboration with NYSDOL and the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics for approximately 20 City agencies to help inform them about the new law and lay the foundation for the City to more fully harness the powerful data possibilities. Better data can help us create a better workforce and education system for all New Yorkers.
Read a two-page fact sheet about the new law, what it does, and why it matters
See milestone dates, votes, and text of A7911
See milestone dates, votes, and text of S5773
See the final bill text in its entirety
See official resources from NYSDOL about the law
Check out the “WRS 101” presentation by NYSDOL