Tag Archives: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Low Employment vs. High Unemployment Around the World

As we prepare to attract, develop and retain skilled workers around the world, who works and who doesn’t work is interesting to me.  So I thought I’d share the following charts that I ran across in a collection of statistics published by the International Labor Comparisons Division of the BLS.  The first shows a comparison of the employment population ratios (proportion of the working-age population that is employed) by sex in 16 countries, adjusted to U.S. concepts.

According to the BLS definitions, employment includes all people who:

  1. worked at least 1 hour as paid employees, working in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked at least 15 hours as unpaid workers in a family-operated enterprise, and
  2. all those who did not work but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent due to vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management disputes, job training, or other family or personal reasons, regardless of whether they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs.

(Actually, I don’t know which is more interesting, the definition of employment above or the chart that follows…)

It’s interesting to note the differences in employment percentages  between men and women. Turkey (40.7),  Mexico (33.4), the Republic of Korea (22.4) and Japan (22) all have differences of 20 points or more between the sexes’ employment rates, and Italy (19.5) is right there as well.  Those are big gaps.

But add this to the mix:  there doesn’t appear to be a strong correlation between these low employment rates of women and the overall national unemployment rates.  See the chart below:

It intuitively makes sense that South Africa with the lowest percentage of women employed in the workforce would also have the highest overall unemployment rate.  However the relationship between these two data points isn’t as consistent as we might assume across other countries.

Look at the data for Mexico, Japan and Korea.  They all report low employment rates for women and low overall unemployment rates.  Not so intuitive.

That’s what I enjoy about people related statistics.  Just when you think you’ve figured it out, the data throw you curve ball.

What do you think the story is here?  Is it fair to try to find a pattern in data like this?  What conclusions can you draw from this?

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Connecting Dots, Demographics, Employment Data, HR Data, U.S. Department of Labor, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

Surprise! Telecommuting Isn’t So Great for Employees…

The June Monthly Labor Review published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor) had an interesting article about the surprising impacts of telecommuting in the U.S. workforce.  Surprising because the data analysis show that telecommuting hasn’t taken hold to any strong degree in the U.S.  And where it has taken hold, the impact isn’t positive:   from an employee perspective, the data suggest that the impact of telecommuting is negative from a work/life integration view!

Wait.  What? Isn’t telecommuting the perk that allows employees more flexibility and balance between work and personal life?  Well, no.  The data suggest not so much.

The Hard Truth About Telecommuting, by Noonan and Glass, says:  “telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers’ needs for additional work time beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees.”

The average number of hours worked per week from home by telecommuters is small.  And hasn’t been growing to any great degree since the mid-1990’s.  What is interesting is that most of telecommuting hours are overtime hours – they aren’t replacing office hours, they appear to be growing overtime hours.  So while more and more employers tout their “work-flex” telecommuting policies, the percentage of workers who telecommute isn’t growing.

Also surprising, is that younger workers are not telecommuting any more often than more mature workers and parents aren’t telecommuting more than the population as a whole!

The big value of telecommuting, according to this report, appears to accrue to a very few higher level professional employees.  For the rest, it actually appears to encourage longer work weeks.  As the report surmises, being available to telecommute may actually allow employers to increase expectation for work availability during evenings and weekends encouraging longer workdays and workweeks – the exact opposite of the intent.

It might be interesting to take a look at your organization’s use of telecommuting and determine whether this “flexible” approach is creating more or less stress, more or the same hours, more or the same productivity – and if it’s being utilized effectively.  In other words, is it an ineffective perk that feels good to offer and merely looks great on the “best” lists or is it a productivity and engagement tool that is actually producing value for your workforce?

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Engagement, HR Data, Monthly Labor Review, Telecommuting, U.S. Department of Labor

Paycheck Pessimism

Most people in the HR space know Glassdoor™ as a social media site that gathers anonymous information about employers from current and former employees.  Users can leverage their Facebook network to uncover connections at a company, view current openings, as well as review proprietary information that includes salary reports, company reviews, interview questions, CEO approval ratings and more.  It’s an incredibly useful site for job seekers to get the real skinny on a potential employer from the people who know it best:  its employees.

Of course, for employers and HR professionals, the site offers a full array of branding and recruitment-oriented services including the ability to create enhanced company profiles, Facebook career profiles, targeted job ads and more.

But for our purposes at Data Point Tuesday, we like Glassdoor™ because of its Quarterly Employment Confidence Survey.  Couple this report with monthly BLS reports and you get a robust picture of workforce and employer confidence and other dynamics.

For example, the Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey surveys employees on their confidence in the areas of pay raises, job market expectations, company outlook and job security.  It’s great data and it’s presented in a highly consumable format.

The most recent survey was conducted by Harris Interactive between June 12 and 14 of 2,208 adults 18 years or older and was published on July 6.  Generally the data show improving or holding steady opinions on workplace confidence dynamics by employees with the exception of optimism in pay raises.  This dropped since last quarter to 40% (from 43%), while 37 % do not expect a pay increase – a low since the survey began in Q4 2008.

At first glance this seems a little off.  Expectations for a raise are at the lowest point since the 4th quarter of 2008 – and lower than the 4th quarter of 2008 when the economy was at its worst? Aren’t we starting to feel better about the economy?  Well, some of us are and some of us clearly are not!  The report says this:

  • Employee optimism in pay raises has dropped slightly since last quarter to 40%, while 37% reported they do not expect a pay increase…
  • The gender gap is closing around expectations for a pay increase over the next 12 months; 41% of women expect an increase compared to 40% of men.  However, men’s optimism around pay has declined five percentage points since last quarter while women’s optimism crept up one percentage point.
  • Younger workers are significantly less optimistic about pay raises than last quarter; 37% of 18-34 years olds expect pay raises in the next 12 months whereas nearly half (49%) expected raises last quarter.  All of the other age ranges have increased 2-4% from last quarter – 48% of 35-55, 42% of 45-54 and 36% of 55+ year olds.

So, if I read this right, men and young people under 35 report strong declines in optimism about pay increases while women report slight increase in optimism.

Men:  down 5%

Young people:  down 12%

Women:  up 1%.

How does this track with your turnover and engagement data?  Tracking turnover data by gender and age demographic is common.  How about engagement data?  Can you make connections between this lack of reported paycheck optimism among males and young people to the engagement data in your organization?  It might be worth a look.

And it might be worth keeping an eye on during the coming quarters – particularly in relation to the election in November.  Young people played a very active and pivotal role in the last presidential election.  Is their level of paycheck pessimism such that they won’t participate as strongly?  Or will it motivate them to even higher levels of activism?  And how will that translate to your organization’s turnover and engagement rates?

This is what’s so great about data.  They let you connect import dots.  Also, they always raise more questions than answers – but if you’re interested and aware you’ll start asking more of the right questions and connecting critical dots.  And who knows?  That could lead to formulating more effective people management and business risk mitigation strategies.

Isn’t that what HR is all about?

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecting Dots, Engagement, Glassdoor, HR, HR Data, Turnover

Data Point #11: Talent optimism vs. realism

We’re surrounded by all kinds of data points about the talent/skill shortage.  I wrote about it here and here.  Today we have two data points:  one comes from SHRM’s Q2 2012 Jobs Outlook Survey Report and the second comes from the BLS 2012 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

SHRM’s Jobs Outlook Survey has some interesting data from a small sample of its 250,000+ members.  (This particular survey was sent to 3,000 randomly selected SHRM members with 336 members responding, for an 11% response rate.)  These quarterly JOS surveys ask HR professionals interesting questions about optimism in job growth, planned changes in total staff levels, categories of workers companies will hire and categories of workers most difficult to hire in the previous quarter.

I was particularly interested in the responses to the question asking which categories of workers were most difficult to hire in the 1st Quarter of this year.  The sample is small (n=246), so the data are directional at best, but do line up with other data sources.

This data is congruent with BLS (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) data relative to education level attainment and the corresponding unemployment rates in April.  The higher the unemployment rate, the lower the difficulty to hire:

  • Less than high school:                                   12.5%
  • High school no college:                                  7.9%
  • Some college or Associate degree:               7.6%
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher:                         4.0%

In other words, it’s more difficult to find skilled professionals and managers in this job market because there are fewer of them unemployed and there are fewer of them overall.  It’s easier to find service workers and unskilled manual workers because more of them are unemployed and there are more of them overall.

But still, as the SHRM report highlights, employers are having difficulty in hiring at all levels.  Which makes me wonder:  are we being unnecessarily restrictive in our job specifications?  Are we hiring people with college degrees when an associate degree would suffice?  Are we requiring associate degrees when a high school degree would be adequate?  I don’t know the answer, but considering the data is interesting.

The Occupation Outlook Handbook, published by the BLS, shows the projected job growth by education category in the 2010-2020 decade:

While the number of jobs created in this decade that will require a Bachelor’s degree or higher is predicted to be nearly 5 million, the number of jobs predicted to be created requiring some college/no degree or less is nearly 13 million.

So if the key to employment (and financial) security for the average worker is a Bachelor’s degree, but the greatest numbers of jobs being created in the next decade won’t require a Bachelor’s degree, how do we reconcile this as employers?

Do we hire college educated workers for jobs that only require a high school diploma?  Are we already doing that now?

Do we work to raise the general level of worker education because we believe it’s the key to global competitiveness?

Do we encourage students to enroll in career and technical education programs in and after high school rather than college because those are the skills needed in the economy?

The data around employers having difficulty finding the talent/skills they need isn’t as simple as it looks.  It’s actually quite challenging.  Under every layer of data is another layer of data.  Solving our talent attraction and acquisition needs won’t be solved with one tactic. But it’s a safe bet that solving our talent challenges will include strengthening relationships between employers and the education infrastructure to produce the skills our economy really needs.

As I look at the data, the optimist in me says we’re covered over in opportunity.  The realist in me says we’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time in which to do it.

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Filed under Bureau of Labor Statistics, China Gorman, Demographics, Education Deficit, Employment Data, HR, Post-secondary education, SHRM, Talent Management, Talent pipeline, U.S. Department of Labor, Uncategorized, Unemployment, Unemployment Rate

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