Friday, October 05, 2012

Which number do I use?

So here is a labor force story in the news today. Trib:  Job search dropouts abound

The theme there?  The labor force participation rate has been trending down.  Ok.  Hold that thought, but remember that the labor force participation rate is the labor force divided by the working age population variously defined. 

Now what do we know the local labor force?  Highest level ever.  Yes, currently the size of the regional labor force is at or near its highest point in history.  As in ever. All time. I tell people this and they just don't believe me. Most likely because the news all reads the opposite.  Of course it is mostly news reflecting national stats and not what is going on locally. 

So what if the labor force participation rate is going down, but the size of Pittsburgh's labor force is growing rather rapidly then what gives?  One of two things kind of has to be true.  One possibility is that thelocal labor force participation rate is shooting up; which makes that headline today the very opposite of what is the local story.

So I was going to end it there, but there is another story that gets to how we all overinterpret the monthly labor force data.   So the local labor force data just came out the other day and the headline is Pittsburgh's unemployment rate went up to 7.3%.

Or did it? 

7.3% is the number in the press release put out for sure (saved here dated October 1st). Yet compare those numbers to the numbers just posted on the state's interactive web site which were just updated as well.  What I see (downloaded October 4) is this and it is not 7.3%.

In itself not a big deal really and I suspect some revision did not get into the right file.  So I suspect one of the sources (press release or interactive data) will be updated to eliminate the discrepancy, but still it gets to the core point that the coverage of the monthly preliminary numbers is at least overwrought.     In fact if you look at the JULY 2012 numbers in the states press release and compare it to the interactive data the region's unemployment rate is different by 0.3%. That actually is kind of a big deal somehow.  Remember there was a news cycle on the first numbers that came out and we pay little attention to any revisions.

So depending on which dataset you look at you can't definitively say the latest numbers are the all time labor force high.  The important thing is the trend and that is still pretty clear.  Whatever is going on with the latest number the Pittsburgh region is at or bouncing around its all time labor force peak, a story completely overlooked locally.  It is certainly a story different from the nation's and deserves a lot more treatment than


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still can't figure out what exactly is going on here.

I'm sure some percentage of national labor force dropouts are caused by demographic shifts, i.e. baby boomers retiring.

So if that's also true for Pittsburgh, which has MORE old people than most cities, then why is our labor force increasing? Shouldn't it be decreasing even more than the national average? Even accounting for some immigration trends, the l.f. growth is waaaay higher than one would think given national trends.

I just don't get it.

Friday, October 05, 2012 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Well, you could just account for more net migration. Note you can get there a combination of ways: both more people coming, and also fewer people leaving. In fact, I'd be very curious to see what the out-migration rate of our local college/university graduates has looked like during the recession/recovery period in comparison to the housing bubble period.

Of course ultimately this is all made possible by relatively robust job growth. And that has been a relatively diverse story, and it is also a story that goes back to before the recession (around 2005 seems to be when things starting accelerating in multiple fields).

Saturday, October 06, 2012 11:44:00 AM  

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