Saturday, October 16, 2004

BLS to the Rescue

Ask and you shall receive. The Division of Labor Force Statistics at the Bureau of Labor Statistics kindly responded to my e-mail, and they set me straight on whether Ryan, who commented on the original post, would be classified as discouraged or just not in the labor force. Recall that Ryan described himself in this way:

I was let go and looked for work for 6 months before deciding that what I really needed to do to get a decent paying and more stable career path was to go back to school. If I had been able to find a job, I'd be working.
Here's the text of the very helpful e-mail (with my emphasis added on the parts that are directly relevant to the discussion thread):

Good afternoon,

Your question was forwarded to me. This is a good question. I have attached a document below that will provide more information on the concepts and definitions used in the Current Population Survey or CPS. The CPS is the main source of information on the labor force in the United States and is a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households.

Questions posed to respondents in the CPS refer to their activity during the Sunday to Saturday that includes the 12th day of each month.

To be classified as unemployed, a person would have not had any employment during the survey reference week, had to be available for work (except for temporary illness), and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. (Individuals who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off are not required to have been looking for work to be classified as employed.)

People who are defined as discouraged workers are individuals who are not in the labor force (i.e. they are not employed or unemployed), but want and are available for a job and had looked for work at some point in the prior 12 months; however, they are not currently looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available or are none for which they would qualify.

Discouraged workers are a subset of the "marginally attached" and these individuals meet the same conditions with regard to their ability to take a job and job search in the prior 12 months, but the reasons they provided for not looking include, for example, transportation problems, child care problems, or ill health/disability.

To specifically answer your question: this person would be considered to be not in the labor force. Additional information would have to be obtained to determine whether this person meets the criteria mentioned above.

Again, I have attached a document below that provides more information on the concepts and definitions used in the CPS.

This person most likely would fall under the broader group of people who say that they "want a job now" and we do publish this estimate monthly. These individuals are considered to be not in the labor force, but are not considered to be marginally attached because they did not meet the criteria for job search in the prior year and/or were not available to take a job during the survey reference week.

BLS does publish this series monthly and here is the code for this series. (This is the code for the seasonally adjusted monthly data.)


Simply paste this code into the box on this site, choose "All Years" and then click on "Retrieve data".

I hope this information is helpful and please let me know if you have any additional questions.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to the government worker who provided you such a comprehensive and well written answer.

May her/his tribe multiply.

Ryan Early said...

I must admit I'm a little awed that my first ever comment on a superior's blog has been the catalyst for so much debate, and I'm glad that my little part has eventually led all of us to learn something new.

However, I'm going to again comment on my situation and say that I should not be categorized as "want a job now." I have undertaken a serious new endeavor (going back to school to get a bachelor's degree in economics with the intent to go on to graduate school) and am taking on a hardship to achieve this new goal (student loans). As such, if a new job in my previously chosen career was offered to me tomorrow I would not take it. I have committed to this new path. Thus under the BLS categorizations I am simply "Not In Labor Force."

Now whether the number of people who are in similar situations is large enough to impact the aggregate unemployment statistics I think is highly questionable. This is a very specific criteria we're looking at: unvoluntarily unemployed, looked for a set period of time, left the workforce, and would not take a job now. I think a much larger group would be people who were let go (or told that lay-offs were approaching), took a look at the tough job market, and decided to go back to school without even looking for a new job. Applications at business schools, law schools, and the like have seen a spike over the past four years, and I think this is the obvious explanation.

It would be nice to see the demographic composition of those people "Not In Labor Force" along with the corresponding changes between June '03 and September '04 to see where the additional 2.36 million people in that categorization came from. Are we seeing this spike in people "voluntarily" going back to school? An increase in women leaving the workforce to start raising families? Is this the beginning of the baby boomers retirement? Or something else I haven't thought of (or some combination)?