Jobs and Gender

I spend a lot of my time working on projects for the Office of Career and Technical Education at the Virginia Department of Education. CTE receives a significant portion of its funding from the federal government, and like all government funds it comes with strings attached. For the last  25 years one of the most important of these has been the requirement to equalize the gender balance of students enrolling in and completing courses. Penalties are exacted when courses in traditionally male fields, like engineering, have fewer than 25 percent females, or courses in traditionally female fields, like nursing, have fewer than 25 percent males. Schools have succeeded in equalizing enrollment in some  areas, but in others, this goal is extremely difficult to meet. The Accounting and Computer Information Systems courses enroll almost equal numbers of male  and female students, but few Pre-engineering or Cosmetology courses meet their 25% target. CTE has trouble meeting this goal not because of lack of effort, but because their enrollment patterns follow the job trends in society at large. Continue reading

Employment is up, wages are down

Employment rose nationwide in 2011, but the average weekly wage fell 1.7 percent according to data just released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only five periods have seen declining wages since the series began in 1978 and fourth Quarter 2010-2011 is the only period to have seen declining wages occur with rising employment.

Virginia’s twelve largest localities, the only ones covered in this report, mirror the national trend. All twelve experienced employment growth, and all but one, Alexandria City, simultaneously experienced wage declines. We need to wait for more details on industry and occupational employment patterns in order to work out just why employment has risen without also driving up wages. And we need employment data for a few more quarters to see whether this divergence of employment and wages is a blip or the beginning of a trend.

Employment and Wage Change, Virginia’s largest Localities, 2010-2011

Percent Change
Average Weekly Wage Wages
4th Quarter 2011 4th Quarter 2010-11
Arlington, VA 0.3 $1,591 -5
Chesterfield, VA. 1.6 $852 -2.5
Fairfax, VA 1.7 $1,519 -1.5
Henrico, VA 1 $939 -2
Loudoun, VA 2.5 $1,136 -5
Prince William, VA. 3.2 $848 -2.8
Alexandria City, VA 0.6 $1,434 0.4
Chesapeake City, VA 0.2 $751 -0.7
Newport News City, VA 1.9 $876 -1.7
Norfolk City, VA. 0.8 $933 -2.6
Richmond City, VA 1.6 $1,027 -3.3
Virginia Beach City, VA 0.5 $763 -0.8

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, County Employment and Wages Summary

Student loans and social benefits are not the worst problem

I’m on the opposite end of the labor force spectrum from Dustin — hurtling towards retirement instead of just starting out — but the issue he described in his recent post is important for me too, as it should be for everyone. If young people are not able to gain a strong foothold in society, the long term consequences could be serious both for them and for the rest of us who depend on a strong young workforce. Hoarding social benefits the way Smaug hoarded gold is unlikely to work any better for us than it did for him. Continue reading

Computers Really Are Taking Our Jobs

UNIVAC 1, 1951

UNIVAC 1. The first commerical computer, delivered to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1951

The last great recession began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009. But it doesn’t feel like it’s over. Even though productivity and in many cases corporate profits have rebounded, unemployment and underemployment remain high. We have seen this pattern after each recession since the 1990s and it has been dubbed “jobless recovery.”

There are many arguments about why unemployment remains so stubbornly high. Some explain that because the economy is weak employers are afraid to grow and reluctant to hire. Others have argued that the economy is facing stagnation and a failure of innovation, especially relative to booming economies in Asia and India. For educators, the “skills gap” explanation has been the most pertinent. This posits that employers now require different, generally higher skill levels from their workers and education is not providing what is needed. Consequently too many people are simply unprepared for work in the 21st Century.

A new book, Race Against the Machine, by MIT Sloan School of Business professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee puts an additional explanation in very clear and accessible terms. It’s not simply that we’re afraid to grow, or stagnating, or even unskilled. Instead, they argue, we’re out of work because, as we have feared for some time, computers really are taking our jobs, and they’re getting better at it every year. Computers are faster and cheaper than people at repetitive tasks, like filing documents, and building things on an assembly line. And as they get more powerful, they can take on more sophisticated repetitive tasks like reading X-rays, analyzing legal documents, and geocoding address data. And equally, if not more important, computerization allows for the reorganization of tasks in a way that eliminates the need for many jobs. Internet shoppers don’t need store clerks; Google searchers don’t need librarians; and Facebook friends don’t need letter carriers. Continue reading

New BLS Occupation Data

Every two years the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics produces a new set of national employment projections for 750 different occupations organized into 22 major groups. They also produce a broad set of supporting materials, from academic and technical analyses for researchers to career guidance materials for students and education planners. The projections data were released in February, and the final resource, a career guide for students and educators called the Occupational Outlook Handbook, was released last week.

For each occupation, the BLS reports:

  • 2010 estimated employment,
  • 2020 projected employment,
  • Percent change 2010-2020,
  • Projected job openings resulting from the creation of new jobs,
  • Projected job openings created by the need to replace those who retire or leave an occupation for other reasons,
  • Percent self-employed, and
  • Median annual wages 2010.

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Occupation Change, 1920-2010

Every year the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases new data about occupations and employment in America. They estimate how many jobs there are for doctors and actors, how many jobs there are in manufacturing and real estate, how many jobs there are in a multitude of other occupations and industries. And every two years they make projections for the future, giving us an idea of which occupations will be growing and adding more jobs and which will be shrinking and perhaps even disappearing. Despite all the work that goes into these estimates and projections, from year to year the data look pretty much the same. Some occupations outpace their neighbors in growth, but rarely by much; the 7th largest occupation last year might be the sixth largest this year, but we rarely see dramatic yearly changes. So why is all this work important?

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