NY Expands Wage Record Use

by Rachel Zinn
November 1, 2013

New York state has adopted legislation that makes wage records more accessible to public agencies for evaluating whether education and workforce development programs lead to good jobs.

The legislation amends an existing state law that lists reasons agencies can request access to wage records, which are submitted quarterly by employers to the state with information about their workers’ dates of employment and wages. Federal, state and local government agencies, including public universities, can now ask for these records and use them for up to ten years to conduct long-term evaluations.

“We had a diverse coalition of voices calling for this change,” said Michelle Light, executive director of New York City’s Office of Human Capital Development. “It was a perfect confluence of the business community and other advocates.”

Having access to wage records allows public agencies to determine what happens to people in the labor market after they complete education and workforce programs. Policymakers will be able to identify the programs that most effectively help people succeed in employment, so these models can be expanded. Programs with less positive results could be improved by adopting proven practices.

The law protects privacy by forbidding any agency using the data for evaluation from publically releasing information that could be connected to a particular individual. The public can see the aggregated average earnings of graduates from a particular college, but not the earnings of a specific graduate, or even any group of graduates fewer than ten.

“This bill would facilitate data sharing amongst agencies for the purpose of program evaluation and longitudinal research, making for a much more transparent system – an outcome of tremendous value to policymakers as well as program administrators,” said National Skills Coalition, a WDQC partner, in a letter of support.  “At the same time, it would ensure that the highest standards for confidentiality and privacy are maintained.”

The law will go into effect by the end of the year. It requires the New York State Department of Labor to set up a standardized process for agencies to request wage records and sets time limits for responding to requests. The Department may deny requests with a written explanation.