Virginia’s Changing Economy

Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published a map of industry sectors with the highest employment by state over the past couple of decades.  The map shows clearly America’s shift from manufacturing to retail to healthcare.  Retail trade has led in Virginia since 1996, even as the rest of the states have been taken over by healthcare.

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Low-wage workers are more diverse than you think

The perfect cup of coffeeIn his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to “give American a raise” by increasing the federal minimum wage. For the second year in a row he argued “that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty”. Even with the presidential priority of raising the Federal minimum wage, the 2014 House bill was voted down. In spite of this, many states and cities have opted to raise the basic hourly wage independent of the federal government.

Raising the minimum wage will impact employers and employees alike, and through them the larger society. While fewer than three percent of US workers* earn the minimum wage (or less), 18 percent earn less than $10.10/hour (the amount proposed by the President).  Understanding how an increased minimum wage will affect individuals first requires examining common arguments about low-wage workers.

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“Seeing” Virginia’s Workforce

FlowingData_ScreenShot_Virginia_MedIncWhen it comes to interactive data visualizations, I am a junky. I don’t mean the dime-a-dozen country maps showing the favorite baby name/band/movie/current fad for each state. I mean the kind that present information in a way that surprises me, even when I am relatively familiar with the data.

The Demographics Research Group has created some really illuminating data visualizations highlighting residential segregation by race, educational division in Washington, D.C., and this older one on electoral changes in Virginia.

Today I spent quite a bit of time exploring this interactive chart of Jobs by State and Salary, created by Dr. Nathan Yau over at FlowingData. In this chart, Yau shows the number of people employed and the median income for all jobs in a state. The top image shows the occupations in Virginia with a median annual salary of roughly $33,000 or more highlighted in green.

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What, exactly, do Americans do all day?

Hanging a clock-editedLast week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released results from the 2013 American Time Use Survey. This survey, administered every year for the last decade, asks respondents–selected from people who have recently completed the Current Population Survey–to keep a diary of how they spent their time for a full 24 hour period. These data allow us to understand something about the “average” day not only for the population overall, but also for various subgroups, such as the unemployed or elderly. As you read, consider: How helpful is information about the “average” respondent?

While there is a fair amount of data to mine, let’s start at the highest level, by looking at time use on an “average” weekday across all respondents:ATUS_piechartPerhaps most notable is the sheer amount of sleep people seem to be getting: apparently, a healthy 8.5 hours a night. Not bad!

…however. As detailed over at Wonkblog, it turns out that “sleeping” is what happens between getting into bed and getting out of bed, and also takes into account naps. This way of calculating sleep doesn’t differentiate between deep slumber and “dozing off to Netflix” (I know I’m not the only one).  Similarly, things like “reading in bed” could feasibly occur during these otherwise allocated sleep hours.

And though 99.9 percent of all respondents reported that they slept at some point in the previous 24 hours, the time reported for other activities is averaged across everyone in the survey, whether they did or did not report them in their time-use “diary”. This is where we need to pay attention to what we mean by “average”. Continue reading

“Breadwinner” Moms in Virginia: Distinct Populations

As Becky explained in her recent post, last month’s Pew report, Breadwinner Moms, finds that, in 2011, forty percent of American households with children under the age of 18 had the mother as the primary or sole earner.  The report goes on to parse this number, indicating that, of this population, about one-third are married women who out-earn their spouses and two-thirds are single mothers.

In Virginia, the numbers are reflective of the national trend: using the same approach as Pew to examine 2011 American Community Survey, we see that forty one percent of Virginia households with children under 18 have a woman as the primary “breadwinner”. Forty three percent of this group (or about 134,000 households) have wives earning more than their husbands, while fifty seven percent (or about 174,200) are headed by unmarried mothers.

As mentioned in various media critiques, these two groups of earners are different enough to treat as entirely different populations.  In this post, the first of three on this topic, I look at some of the key differences between these two groups of mothers, and examine earnings trends relative to these differences. Continue reading

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

How to Succeed Financially: The American Template

In the U.S., the traditional narrative of how to succeed financially in has been to do the following:

  1. Go to college and earn a degree
  2. Use that degree to get a good job (with health insurance) that pays enough money to cover your basic needs and allows you to build some savings.
  3. With your savings, a mortgage loan, and maybe a little help from your parents, buy a home (presuming it makes sense vs. renting). This will save money on rent and home equity will be a major portion of your nest egg.
  4. Take advantage of institutionalized savings mechanisms (401K or other pension plans) to start saving for retirement to supplement Social Security. With diminishing payouts and concerns about the future solvency of Social Security, supplemental savings are increasingly important.
  5. After many years of work, retire and live comfortably off of your savings and Social Security.

While the notion of a strict linear model of the life course is increasingly outdated, there are also questions about the veracity of its basic assumptions–is a college degree worth the price tag? Is homeownership really a good investment? Yet, in the absence of clear alternatives, this remains the dominant life course narrative. Taking advantage of the online analysis tools at the University of California, Berkeley’s Survey Documentation and Analysis (SDA) program, I used the triennial Survey of Consumer Finance (SCF) and annual Current Population Survey (CPS) data to examine trends in work, benefits, and wealth among young working-age adults, those aged 25 to 44, over the past twenty years, with an eye to examining each step in this traditional narrative.

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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