Friday, May 3, 2013

BLS Hiring and Firing Data

In discussing welfare with conservative friends, the discussion inevitably turns to all the people they know who are "able-bodied" but who simply refuse to work so they can collect welfare, in addition to all of the people they know who scam the welfare system. I'm not sure where these folks hang out that they personally know all of these people scamming the welfare system, apparently bleeding taxpayers dry, despite the fact that welfare is only 3% of the federal budget.

When I point out the BLS high rates of unemployment, especially for those under 30 and race minorties, conservatives typically critique the unemployment measure as "how many people aren't working because they would rather collect unemployment benefits." While federal data doesn't support this assumption, it is true that the "unemployment rate" isn't a masure of how many people are "unemployed who want work," which is important to my argument, since I claim the high rates of poverty and welfare use are because there are no jobs available, not because Americans are lazy and like to leech of our neighbors. This is the typical sociological frame--that poverty is due to structural forces that prevent people from access to skills, or access to jobs.

Based on a friend's question, "is there a 'jobs opportunity index,' an alternative to the unemployment index, but which shows actual availability of jobs?," I did some digging, but found little that adequately addressed that important question. In 2010, a pair of economists won the Nobel Prize for developing the Matching Theory Problem, that there is a severe structural problem with matching job seekers with job opportunities. There have been several nice studies that look at the lack of available jobs, and the subsequent rise in poverty; conversely, when job opportunities rise, then poverty and welfare use decreases. But all of these studies are micro-level studies of communities, based on researchers spending months canvassing from street-to-street to find employers, or utilizing online databases like Craigslist or There is no national database where all employers input available jobs, so therefore, there is no "available jobs index" to measure national, regional, or local employment opportunity rates.

The closest I could find was the BLS JOLTS database, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which began in late 2000. The title sounds promising, but it actually doesn't measure "job openings." It takes a random sampling of 16,000 employers a month, primarily firms (larger, stable businesses), and asks how many people they have hired, and how many they have let go, or separations. The assumption is that separations minus hiring should represent jobs available. But later researchers found that when firms layoff workers and simply make businesses smaller, then the separations-hiring number is not job openings, but an actual contraction of the market.

In the table above, I track three measures: national unemployment rate (blue), hiring in the Midwest (gray), and layoffs in the Midwest (yellow). I purposefully left out "quits", to remove those people who leave the job market willfully, to emphasize the number of people who are taken out of the employment numbers due to structural factors. You can see the impact of the 2008/09 recession by the long-term spike in lay-offs, and the decreases in hiring that began in 2007, which is also when the unemployment rate began the slow incline. Compounding the lay-offs and decrease in hiring, you see the tremendous spike in unemployment rates.

Regardless, neither of these measure what my friend asked--whether there is a "jobs available index." But it seems to be about as close as we have for the time being, except for individual studies doing micro-level survey research.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Teenagers Should have Anti-Pregnancy Tools

Obama's Justice Department today filed notice that it will appeal a Federal court's decision to allow 15-yr olds access to so-called "Plan B," a form of emergency contraception, which the FDA recently ruled was safe for girls of that age and older (Washington Post). While few want 15-year olds to be having sex, unless you are part of the Warren Jeff's clan, the issue isn't whether you want "your" daughter to have sex, or an "abstract" girl, but how can we, as a society, decrease the teen pregnancy rate. Arguments about abstinence education aside, scolds of poor parenting, and the older generation complaining about the wild, thoughtless youth of today, there are very practical steps that we can take to limit the risks that youth pose to themselves, one of which is to provide them access to contraception. Studies are convergent--providing access decreases rates of STDs and teen birth rates. It is naive to hand-wave at the loose morals of society, and believe that if we just yell louder about kids having sex too young, that the problem will go away. We have been trying that method for decades with little success, especially in the states that are least progressive when it comes to sex education. In fact, teen birth rates have gone down in the US, but primarily only in states that provide access to contraception, which includes a knowledge of how to use it, i.e., comprehensive sex education (Hall and Hall, 2011; Kohler and Manhart, 2008).

A quick look at recent CDC data on teen birth rates (Table 1 below), reveals the staggering details of the problem that many in our society fail to grasp. This CDC table indicates not only the rates of teen birth by age, but by how many children by age. Look at the table for age 16, 3rd child--your eyes are not deceiving you--there were 69 live births to 16 year olds that were the 3rd child just in 2010 alone here in the U.S, and 8 births that were the 4th child. To a 16-yr old. None of this data even considers abortions figures. If social conservatives want to decrease abortion, then call Obama and, as you have for the last 5 years, oppose him--ask him to reconsider his directive to appeal the Plan B decision. You can continue to work on various "moral" programs to limit teen pregnancies. But in the meantime, let's agree that providing every reasonable tool contributes to the solution.

Age of Motherunder 1515 yrs16 yrs17 yrs18 yrs
1st child4,37212,97131,11654,83684,632
2nd child743861,9186,45716,355
3rd child713695381,990
4th child23833202
5th child-131120
6th child-1-17
7th child----1
8+ children---23
Source: CDC, Vital and Health Statistics, 2012