Category Archives: U.S. Department of Labor

Data Point # 10: The Unemployment Rate Went Down? Really?

There is no irony in data.  Except if you put two graphs side by side that tell the same but different story.

The April employment data was released on Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor, which, of course, is part of the U.S. Federal Government.  The BLS paired these two graphs together.  Chart 1 shows the civilian labor force unemployment rate from April 2010 through April 2012.  Chart 2 shows the growth (or not) of nonfarm payroll employment in the same time frame.

Given this data, it’s a little hard to understand why  the unemployment rate went down .1 point to 8.1% during a month when far fewer jobs were created than in the previous 6 months.

During the slow crawl out of the Recession, many economists and pundits positioned that for the unemployment rate to hold steady month over month, a minimum of 150,000 new jobs would need to be created in that month.  And yet the data show that in a month when only 115,000 new jobs were created and the number of employed people was down 169,000, the unemployment rate still went down.  How does that math work?

Here’s the chart that makes sense of it all direct from the BLS Employment Situation Report:

The civilian labor force actually decreased from March to April by 342,000; the number of employed people decreased 169,000; the number of unemployed people (still looking for work) dropped by 173,000; and the number of people not in the labor force grew by 522,000.  What we can’t tell is how many of the unemployed became discouraged and stopped looking for work.  They drop out of all calculations.

If we do the math, the lower unemployment rates over the last several months are not the result of job growth, but rather a shrinking civilian labor force and a decrease in the labor force participation rate.

While the numbers of the unemployed – that’s people unemployed and actively looking for work – appear to be shrinking, the numbers of people “not in the labor force” is growing.  And growing rapidly – by nearly 3 million in the last year alone.  We can’t tell from this data whether the rapidly growing number of people not in the labor force are Baby Boomers retiring (that wouldn’t be totally unexpected) or more discouraged unemployed people dropping out of the job search.  But it’s a safe bet that it isn’t entirely people – Boomers or otherwise – voluntarily leaving the workforce.

So.  The number of discouraged unemployed workers grows at the same time the number of participants in the labor force is decreasing.  And that results in a lower unemployment rate.  Maybe data is ironic after all.

How’s this scenario?  What happens when the economy and the job market really improve and the discouraged unemployed workers re-enter the job market?  Under this math, the unemployment rate could very well go up.  The more workers are in the workforce — either employed or actively looking for work — the higher the number of jobs we’ll need to create to keep the unemployment percentage even.

Bottom line:  the lowering unemployment rate isn’t about more workers going back to work at all.  It’s about more workers leaving the economy.  Really.

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Demographics, Employment Data, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

Data Point #5: We Can’t Succeed Without Baby Boomers

In earlier Data Point Tuesday posts (here and here) I’ve recommended the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website as a treasure trove of talent management related data.  Another great source of useful information is SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management.

SHRM’s research group works tirelessly to bring relevant, actionable trend and survey information to its members.  And if you aren’t a member (why aren’t you?), the value of SHRM’s research services alone is more than the cost of membership. *

Workplace Visions is part of SHRM’s Workplace Trends and Forecasting program and is published multiple times each year – as new data become available.  The reports are useful signposts for new developments that impact organizations, talent management and HR professionals.

The first such report published this year is “Changes to Retirement Benefits:  What HR Professionals Need to Know in 2012” (member protected).  It’s full of useful observations about changes coming to 401(k) plan rules, Social Security changes to keep an eye on and great data from EBRI (The Employee Benefits Research Institute).

One of the discussion points piqued my interest:  data from EBRI about the reduction in confidence by Baby Boomers that they will have enough money in their retirement years to live comfortably.  See the chart below.  This has big potential impact for employers.

The aha! is that while a steady stream of Americans still plan to retire in their early to mid-60s, many more workers are unsure when they’ll be able to retire – or if they’ll be able to retire.  As you can see from the chart, in 2007 70% of EBRI survey respondents reported some level of confidence in their retirement plans.  That number fell to 49% in 2011.  SHRM also cites data from Towers Watson surveys with similar outcomes.

What does this mean for talent management professionals?  Well, SHRM thinks that providing a stronger hand in retirement planning and financial education for Baby Boomers will help reduce retirement-related anxiety.  I absolutely agree.

Additionally, though, SHRM counsels HR professionals to “weigh the positives and negatives of employing an older workforce.”   They counsel that “older workers are often costlier to keep on board, due to higher salaries and health benefits costs.” Woah.  The  thought that employers will have robust options besides Baby Boomers and other older workers to staff their organizations isn’t supported by the demographic trends.

My take is a little different.  Here’s what the data say:

  • the U.S. population is growing more slowly leading a more slowly growing civilian work force (http://bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecopro.pdf),
  • the Baby Boom generation moves entirely into the 55-years-old+ age group by 2020 and will represent 25.2% of the work force (up from 13.1% in 2000)
  • the “prime-age” labor cohort (ages 25-54) is projected to drop to 63.7% (from 71.1% in 2000) of the work force

So the engagement, development and retention of Baby Boomers and other older workers will be a very critical part of most organizations’ talent strategies because they’ll make up 25% of the available work force.  Providing incentives to stay, financial education for pro-active retirement planning and unique engagement strategies — among others — will all be part of talent strategy in 2020.  There won’t be any weighing the positives and negatives of employing an older workforce.  But there will be significant effort spent in figuring out how to keep the Baby Boomers’ skills, talents,and  organizational knowledge in play in the work force — and in our organizations.

At 25% of the available workforce, there won’t be other options.  We won’t be able to succeed without Baby Boomers.

*Full Disclosure:  I am SHRM’s former Chief Operating Officer

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Filed under Baby Boomers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Success, China Gorman, Demographics, Employment Data, HR, Retirement Planning, Talent Management, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor

Data Point #4: Cyclical vs. Structural Unemployment

The U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics is a gold mine of information.  It crunches massive amounts of data having to do with labor and the economy, and is prolific in providing projections for the future.  (See previous posts here and here.)

An interesting monthly publication put out by the BLS is the Monthly Labor Review.  The January edition included an Overview of projections to 2020 based on its Employment Outlook 2010-2020.  The overview contains a review of the underlying data behind all of the BLS’s projections.  Labor force participation by demographic, the connection between GDP and productivity, job growth by sector/industry, job growth by occupation, job growth by education level – all are included in this overview.

What I found most interesting was a graph and brief discussion comparing the most recent recession and the resulting time to labor market recovery to the previous four recessions.  Take a look at the graph.

We all know that the effects of the 2007-2009 recession are still being felt.  In fact, the graph shows that we are a long way from reaching “recovery to level at start of recession” — some 30 months out from the official end of the recession.  No surprise, but perhaps the combination of the length of the recovery together with the continued gap between where we are and the “recovery to level at start of recession” is noteworthy.  Also of note:  this overview reports that the BLS sets the “natural rate of unemployment” at 5.2%.  We’re still a long way from the recovery to level at start of recession rate — and a much longer way from the natural rate some 40 months from the official start of the recession.

The real question is, why is this recovery taking so long compared to the previous recoveries shown in the graph?  Labor market analysts discuss the cyclical vs. structural causes that continue to depress hiring and job creation.  Cyclical unemployment occurs when workers are laid off because of weak demand, but who expect to be re-hired when demand picks up – usually by the same organization, and usually in the same occupation or industry.

Structural changes in the economy also create job loss – our most recent recession proved that unequivocally.  Structural unemployment could also be caused by weak demand, but is fundamentally caused by other dynamics that impede workers’ abilities to return to work when demand picks up.  For example, new technology and resulting productivity gains may reduce the need to rehire workers with less current skills and may reduce the number of workers needed even after recovery.   As time goes on, the skills deficit of the structurally unemployed gets bigger and so they may well experience longer periods of unemployment.  Retraining in new occupations will be required for these workers in many cases.  Sound familiar?

As HR and talent management professionals take into account the impact of both cyclical and structural unemployment in their locations and industries, their approach to creating a robust talent pipeline will be far more realistic and attainable if they focus on causes of structural unemployment.  Just as employers are having difficulty finding the skills they need, the structurally unemployed are having difficulty finding new homes for their outdated skills.

Surely the answer is obvious to more than me.

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cyclical Unemployment, Employment Data, Job Creation, Monthly Labor Review, Structural Unemployment, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized, Unemployment

Data Point #2: Quits vs. Layoffs/Discharges

The unemployment rate is 8.3%.  Better than a year ago, but still 8.3%.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there are 12.8 million unemployed workers in the United States.  Most believe that the real number is closer to 18 million – the difference being those who have been unemployed so long that they’ve given up hope in finding a job.

There’s no doubt that the economy is showing signs of improvement.  However, last Tuesday the Dow lost more than 200 points – the single biggest one-day loss in 2012.  Gasoline averages $3.80 a gallon and is predicted to top $4.00/gallon by summer.  Fears of the European economy tanking and taking the U.S. economy with it are still strong.  And the anticipation of a myriad of tax increases hitting businesses and individuals on January 1, 2012 creates enormous uncertainty.

Job satisfaction in the U.S. continues to decline and the percentage of workers who report being engaged is less than 33% by some measures.

So this next data point is somewhat astonishing, and cause for concern by HR professionals everywhere.  According to data released today by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the numbers of workers who are leaving their jobs voluntarily continues to grow and outpace the number of workers who are leaving their jobs involuntarily.

The graph shows that during good economic times the number of workers who leave their jobs voluntarily is larger – significantly larger – than those who are involuntarily terminated.  It stands to reason.  If they don’t like their boss, if they don’t trust their CEO, if their work isn’t meaningful, if another company offers more money – they resign.

It also stands to reason – and the chart shows this clearly – that in bad economic times the number of workers who quit voluntarily drops precipitously. Leaving your job in a really bad economy– without a new one to go to — defies logic.  And unless the situation is unbearable, most people are logical when it comes to their employment and cash flow.

Most would agree that the economy is still bad.  There are still millions of workers looking for jobs.  The economic and political environments are shaky.  Yet the number of people thinking “I can’t take it another day – there’s got to be something better than this:  I quit” is  growing.  In this economy.  With these uncertainties.

     What does this say about the level of dissatisfaction and disengagement within our workforces?

     What does this say about the cultures of our organizations?

     What does this say about our ability to retain the talent that we need?

Well, if you’re an optimist like I am, this is what you think:

     What a great opportunity we have to create a differentiated employee experience!

     What a great time to start strengthening our culture!

     What a great time to start recruiting!

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, Data Point Tuesday, Employment Data, Engagement, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized

Data Point #1: Unemployment Rate vs. Layoff Data

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published a mixed bag of news week before last.  While the unemployment rate fell from 8.5% in December to 8.3% in January, the number of mass layoff events in January grew by 50 over the previous month.  (A mass layoff event  involves at least 50 workers from a single employer.)  The total number of employees involved in these events, however, was reduced month-over-month by 15,728.  So while more employers were downsizing in January, fewer employees were impacted.  Good news, right?  Maybe…

Looking at the trend lines in the chart below, HR professionals may scratch their heads and wonder what is different in January 2012 from April 2008?  The number of initial claims are similar:  128,643 in April 2008 vs 129,920 in January 20102.  But the unemployment rate is significanttly dissimilar:  5% unemployment in April 2008 vs. 8.3% unemployment in January 2012.  What’s going on?

Clearly, the lagging effects of the economic downturn which began to gather steam in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2008 are still being felt.  The resulting embedded base of unemployed workers continues to weigh heavily on the U.S. economy and the unemployment rate despite the falling numbers of layoff events and impacted workers.

So how is this data useful for HR professionals?  Simple.  Putting the long-time unemployed back to work has to be job #1 in our organizations and our communities.  As your organization plans to grow its employee base — whether with contract, temporary or full-time employees — what are your plans to target the long-term unemployed for inclusion in the talent pipeline?

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Data Point Tuesday, Employment Data, HR, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized