Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There are no shovel ready jobs

Not even in the government. In a recession when it seems that data gathering is more important than usual to gauge the extent and depth of the crisis, even the government statistical agencies are unable to take on these tasks that could add jobs in the way that a census year usually adds temporary jobs to the census workforce:

From Remapping Debate (emphasis mine):
In the last several months, the U.S. economy has added several hundred thousand jobs, sparking optimism among some observers that the labor market has finally started to recover in earnest. There is substantial debate, however, over whether the jobs being added are “good jobs” — those that pay a high-wage and offer job security and benefits to workers — or “bad jobs,” which don’t. There is some, mostly anecdotal, data suggesting that the jobs being created in certain industries pay less than the pre-recession jobs, but, oddly, the federal government simply does not collect sufficiently robust information to determine how the wages and benefits of new hires differ from the wages of existing employees in the same occupation.

That basic lack of data has perplexed some labor economists and policy advocates, who see such information as a crucial part of understanding the current labor market. It is true that the information would not be definitive: the existence of a newly hired employee does not necessarily mean that a new job has been created, because “new hires” would show up regardless of whether the position was actually new (if an employer fires one employee and hires another for the same job — a process known as “churn” — the new employee is a new hire, but the job is not new). Nevertheless, being able to track the wages of new hires relative to existing workers would be a valuable contribution to an understanding of the pressures facing workers and the state of the labor market as a whole, several labor economists said.

If the data on the wages of new hires existed and were easily accessible, many labor economists said that there were a wide variety of useful applications for it, which could end up influencing policy decisions for the better.

John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a beltway think tank, agreed. “In the best of all possible worlds our policy decisions would be informed by the data,” he said. “When we don’t have the data, we’re forced to make decisions on incomplete information, which often encourages decisions to be made based on political connections and in backroom deals.”

There are some practical obstacles to obtaining data on the wages of new hires at the occupational level, but economists agree that the BLS could collect that information in several different ways. The most practical vehicle, according to Kosanovich, would likely be the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is a monthly survey of households on a range of topics.

The CPS currently asks about job tenure in a biennial supplemental survey usually conducted in January. And though some industry-wide information on the wages of new hires can be gleaned from these data, Kosanovich explained that the survey size is too small to provide accurate information at the level of detailed occupations. To address that problem, questions about job tenure would need to be asked more often, or asked of more households, or both.

And according to George Long, a BLS economist with the National Compensation Survey, the obstacles to collecting the data are “more institutional than practical.”

“If we don’t provide certain information,” Long said, “it is because Congress has decided that it does not need that information on a regular basis.” Moreover, Long explained, every change that the BLS makes to its surveys must first be cleared with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as part of a 1980 law called the Paperwork Reduction Act. “The OMB is particularly concerned with ‘respondent burden,’” Long said. “They really don’t want us to ask more questions than we are required to by law.”

No comments: