How reliable are BLS job projections?


by Simfish
Tags: projections, reliable
Simfish
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#1
May14-11, 04:12 PM
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How did they do just before the crash of the 2000 tech bubble, for example?

I've tried google, and it fails to produce anything relevant for the last 20 years
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Vanadium 50
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#2
May14-11, 05:11 PM
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There is more to the Internet than Google. I went to the BLS home page, and it took me all of two minutes to find this. In 1998, they predicted the number of computer support specialists to double by 2008. It only went up by 60%.

If you are worried about your own situation, I would think about something. Would you hire someone who, when looking for BLS data, gave up when Google couldn't find it? If it's easy to find in BLS' own web site? Also, is it reasonable to expect that BLS statistics can accurately predict when bubbles pop? And that this information is systematically ignored by people who stand to make or lose billions by knowing this? Now, recognize that wherever you end up going, what you are selling as a physics grad is the ability to find things out on your own and to make logical inferences.
Pengwuino
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May14-11, 05:14 PM
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Ouch Vanadium. Ouch.

Simfish
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May14-11, 05:20 PM
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How reliable are BLS job projections?


Yes, but that's just one example. What you seem to be implying is that BLS projections aren't reliable in a large number of cases. But on the other hand, there are cases when BLS projections are more reliable, and I'd like to see what others have to say on the issue (it's not just a "yes"/"no" question - people often give complex replies to questions that seem like "yes"/"no" questions). For example, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal...7346-243a.html just cited BLS projections for its article, although I am somewhat skeptical (I am not entirely skeptical however, and can handle uncertainties in these projections).

Besides, my *preliminary* conclusion was that they weren't reliable before tech bursts. I did not make the conclusion with 100% certainty, however. I do like to calibrate my posterior probability function based on what other people have to say. Because I do respect the fact that my prior probability functions may be incorrect on some counts.
Vanadium 50
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May14-11, 05:56 PM
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To Simfish: the numbers are there on the BLS site. Draw your own conclusions.

To Pengwuino: Simfish is a nice guy with a degree from a good college. But, as they say, "that and a quarter...". Companies don't hire people because they are nice and have degrees from a good college. Companies hire people because they have a problem that needs solving and think you can solve it for them. This is an important idea, and somehow people are graduating in droves without knowing it. (For an even more extreme example, look at all the people who post messages of the sort: "OK, I've graduated. The world owes me a job. Where is it?")

The thing that matters most in getting a job is not your degree, it's not the BLS statistics, and it's not even the economy in general. It's whether you can sell a prospective employer on the idea that he would rather have you working for him than any alternative - and that depends on selling him on the idea that you can solve his problems: not just the one he has today, but the one he's going to have tomorrow.

Simfish can find out from me, or he can find out on the streets. Which is kinder?
Simfish
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May14-11, 06:08 PM
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Yes, those are good points, and I agree with them. One thing, though, is that there are some questions that do take time to investigate. While I can answer them myself if I took 1-2 hours of good searching, I don't have infinite time, so I can often get answers to them more quickly if I asked them over here (not just direct answers, but concrete personal examples, which are the replies I value the most highly, and that are hardest to find from a google search). It's not exactly a loss, since other people are also interested in people's replies to my questions, and I've been here for a long time (and extensively use the search feature), so I do have a general idea of which questions are overdone and which ones aren't.

I'll have to actually admit that even though I felt that some of them were unnecessary, some of Vanadium 50's other harsh replies to my threads actually did prevent me from asking certain stupid questions (especially ones when I still had insecurity issues) to the people who actually matter (especially professors)
DifferentWays
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#7
May15-11, 12:56 AM
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Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
To Simfish: the numbers are there on the BLS site. Draw your own conclusions.

To Pengwuino: Simfish is a nice guy with a degree from a good college. But, as they say, "that and a quarter...". Companies don't hire people because they are nice and have degrees from a good college. Companies hire people because they have a problem that needs solving and think you can solve it for them. This is an important idea, and somehow people are graduating in droves without knowing it. (For an even more extreme example, look at all the people who post messages of the sort: "OK, I've graduated. The world owes me a job. Where is it?")

The thing that matters most in getting a job is not your degree, it's not the BLS statistics, and it's not even the economy in general. It's whether you can sell a prospective employer on the idea that he would rather have you working for him than any alternative - and that depends on selling him on the idea that you can solve his problems: not just the one he has today, but the one he's going to have tomorrow.

Simfish can find out from me, or he can find out on the streets. Which is kinder?
With all due respect, nobody asked you for your "glowing insights" on industry employment. Your unsolicited advise is patronizing, pretentious, and rude.

I really believe you should be nicer to others.
twofish-quant
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#8
May15-11, 09:28 PM
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Employment statistics are notoriously unreliable. There are several problems

1) the statistics change reality. If people think that there is going to be large number of computer jobs, then business decisions change and this feeds back on the statistics

2) getting accurate statistics involves predicting the entire world. Tell me who is going to be President in 2013? Can't figure that out? Then there are limited on the how well you can predict the number of jobs in an area in 2015.

3) people that make these sorts of guesses often have vested interests in making the numbers turn out in a certain way. Even if they are trying to be honest, this will cloud their judgement.
twofish-quant
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#9
May15-11, 09:33 PM
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Vanadium50: The thing that matters most in getting a job is not your degree, it's not the BLS statistics, and it's not even the economy in general. It's whether you can sell a prospective employer on the idea that he would rather have you working for him than any alternative

Strongly disagree. During the dot-com boom, employers were picking random people off the streets to program computers. In 2008, employers couldn't hire anyone at all even if they wanted to.

The qualifications of the prospective employee actually doesn't make that much a difference as to whether someone will get a job or not. It's the overall state of the economy that makes a big difference. When you are in a bust, you can walk on water and have a Fields Medal, and we can't hire you because we don't have the money and can't take the risk. When you are in a boom, then people with rather low skills get hired, because there is a pool of money to hire people.

What I'm trying to say is that the world doesn't revolve around the employee. You can be great and unlucky, or bearly competent and lucky. Most of it depends on the number of jobs available, and that depends on the overall state of the economy and things that are largely outside of your control.

Also being able to "sell" yourself is a very important skill, but it's one that physics people aren't usually particularly good at.
twofish-quant
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#10
May15-11, 09:56 PM
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Quote Quote by Simfish View Post
While I can answer them myself if I took 1-2 hours of good searching, I don't have infinite time, so I can often get answers to them more quickly if I asked them over here (not just direct answers, but concrete personal examples, which are the replies I value the most highly, and that are hardest to find from a google search).
Same here. At least where I work, it's considered rather inefficient to waste your time searching for someone when you can get the answer from someone next to you. Also, a lot of the stuff that you get on the web is seriously misleading. Yes you can get a lot of stuff on google, but a lot of it turns out to be wrong or seriously misleading, and the really important knowledge is often locked up in people's heads.

There is one curious thing is that people that know something often are the least likely to be able to talk about it. For example, if I were able to predict the value of a stock a day in advance, there is no way that I'd talk about it since I'd be fired if I'm lucky or in jail for insider trading if I'm particularly unlucky. Even knowing whether or not it is *possible* to predict the value of stock a day in advance is important information, which you can't get useful information on google, because people that really know, don't talk about it.

And labor markets are just like stock markets in some ways. If I were to post a public message "My name is X, I work for Y and we are hiring (or not hiring people) for Z" I'd get fired. If you PM me, I can be more open, and if we are in a situation in which we are face-to-face I can even be more open.

Also there is information overload. Often the one bit of information that you need is the keyword to type into google.

I'll have to actually admit that even though I felt that some of them were unnecessary, some of Vanadium 50's other harsh replies to my threads actually did prevent me from asking certain stupid questions (especially ones when I still had insecurity issues) to the people who actually matter (especially professors)
One issue that I've found (and why I post a lot on this) is that most physics professors are particularly bad people to ask questions about life outside of academia.

The other thing that I've found is that I try to be nice to undergraduates because you have information that I need. I can tell you what life was like for an undergraduate in 1991, but you have much more direct and valuable information about what life is like for an undergraduate in 2011, and that's something that I'm pretty clueless about. You tell me what I know. I tell you want you know.

One thing that will help you get a job is to have a high tolerance to "stupid questions." One reason I try to be nice with questions is that a large amount of my time and effort involves answering "stupid questions" and the reply that I give is usually not "use google" because if they could use google, they why are they paying me?

Also a lot of "stupid questions" come from senior management. If a senior manager calls me up and asks me what I think of BLS statistics (and I have gotten requests for similar information and analysis) and I respond with "use google you idiot", then I'm not long for this job.
twofish-quant
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#11
May15-11, 10:32 PM
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Companies hire people because they have a problem that needs solving and think you can solve it for them.
Actually no. Companies hire people because they have money to do so, and someone thinks that they can make more money by using that in salaries. In 2008, you could walk on water, and no one would hire you, even if they had a desperate need for water walkers.

One thing that makes it hard for physics people to get jobs is that physics people have been trained to think in terms of "solving problems" when hiring is a bit more complicated. Even if you have a problem to be solved more often than not, those problems have a human relations component.

For example, sometimes you win when you get someone to realize that they had a problem that they never thought about. Also human relations plays a huge role. People are a "rationally irrational" and if you are nice and pleasant, you are much more likely to be hired. This is "rationally irrational" because if you are sitting next to someone for ten hours a day, and you find them annoying and they find you annoying, then productively goes down a lot.

This is an important idea, and somehow people are graduating in droves without knowing it.
Because IMHO, it's totally wrong. People aren't finding jobs right now because a bunch of people on Wall Street screwed up the economy. Putting responsibility on new graduates for not finding jobs is like blaming passengers for a plane crash.

(For an even more extreme example, look at all the people who post messages of the sort: "OK, I've graduated. The world owes me a job. Where is it?")
I'm working my rear end off trying to get you one. My job is to get you a job. That's why I get paid the obscene amounts of money that I get.
twofish-quant
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#12
May15-11, 11:04 PM
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One reason I'm rather sympathetic to people that are looking for work is that I've been in the same situation myself, and a lot of what I say is what I wished someone had said to me when I was in that situation.

As far as "does the world owe you a job?". I think it does, because to believe otherwise leads to a world that I don't particularly care to live in.

The problem is that whether or not you have a job or not depends on the decisions of other people that you have no control over, and if they (or rather we) don't care about you, then what will happen is that the rich will get richer and everyone else is going to get screwed over. There *are* people in Wall Street that take the attitude "I've got mine, screw you" and I'd like to keep those people as far from any real power that I can.

For example, we could invest in more machines, or we could invest in people, and if there are lots of unemployed people, then we really should invest in people rather than machines. Once everyone is working, then we invest in machines.
twofish-quant
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#13
May15-11, 11:36 PM
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There's also something of a generation gap here.

In the 1980's and 1990's jobs were plentiful enough so that if you didn't get a job, it could be argued that you really didn't deserve one. So a lot of the politics of the 1980's involved viewing the unemployed as lazy or just bad people that we didn't have to worry about. Since most people were employed it was pretty easy to stomp on the people that couldn't get work.

You can get more sympathy from people that lived through the great depression or people that lived through nasty economic times (Mexico, Argentinians, or Russians). Conversely, tenured physics professors tend to be some of the most unsympathetic people to people looking for work that I've ever seen (tenured economics professors are even worse).

The attitude usually is "I got my stuff by working hard, and so can you, and if you complain, that's your problem." The problem is that if you have 20 people and 10 chairs, it doesn't matter how hard you work, you are going to end up with 10 people without chairs. If you have 1 person that gets left standing, you can argue that he is an that doesn't deserve a job. If you have 15 people, then you can't.

We are in a totally different situation today than the 1980's, and it's particularly bad for young people. I'm extremely sympathetic because I've been in that situation, and looking over how I got out of it, it was as much "dumb luck" as anything I did.

The CEO of my company gave a talk in which someone asked him what he would have done if things went really bad, and he said that the company would have survived because they had a contingency plan to fire a huge number of people, and I'm 99% sure that I was on the list of people to be fired, since if I had to save the company, that's would I'd do.
chiro
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#14
May16-11, 03:28 AM
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Just to add on top of what two-fish has said is that no-one has all the answers and its a bit arrogant to think that way.

In my experience with software, when someone has a problem it's a lot easier to send an internal email, or physically go to someone who has some experience or at least a better idea than you do to solve the problem that you are working on.

In fact acting like you know better or that you can do it yourself can be disastrous for both yourself and other people and i've learned this the hard way.

There is a genuine difference between being lazy with no initiative and being consciously cautious with initiative, and if I were an employer I would prefer the latter due to the potential destruction that can be caused as a result.
Vanadium 50
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May16-11, 09:17 AM
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Twofish, the hyperbole doesn't help with forming a clear picture. This is not the Great Depression. Today the unemployment rate is 8.7%, which means !8.9% seasonally adjusted. At the height of the Great Depression it was three times higher.

At the peak of the boom, unemployment was still 3-4%. People were not rounding up the homeless to hire them as quants. Although that would explain a lot. Indeed, it is very instructive to look at the number of job openings - i.e. the sum of new hires plus replacements. That varies from a bit over 4.5 million to a bit under 3.0 million: so it ranges +/- 15% or so around the middle.

Is this significant? Of course. Is it the only factor - or even the dominant factor? You can see the magnitude - sometimes it's a 15% help. Sometimes it's a 15% hinderance.

You said one which is absolutely true: Also being able to "sell" yourself is a very important skill, but it's one that physics people aren't usually particularly good at. I maintain that the proper reaction to that is to get better at it. It's a skill, like any others. That's far more productive than complaining about it.
ParticleGrl
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May16-11, 01:32 PM
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Today the unemployment rate is 8.7%, which means !8.9% seasonally adjusted.
This number is a bit misleading as it doesn't include people who moved out of the labor market altogether (but who will probably move back in as the situation improves). It also fails to account for people who are "under-employed."

I've been bartending in an upscale restaurant while looking for work that might be a better fit and we recently hired more waitstaff for the tourist season. One has a masters in mechanical engineering, and the other two used to work as office managers at a nearby law firm. All of us are actively seeking more fitting work.

Obviously, its a very hard thing to get data on, but I'd be willing to bet that when the job market begins to turn around (hopefully faster than it has), you'll see a flight from service jobs to hopefully better pastures.
twofish-quant
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#17
May16-11, 07:45 PM
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Quote Quote by Vanadium 50 View Post
Twofish, the hyperbole doesn't help with forming a clear picture. This is not the Great Depression.
It isn't, but we came very, very close. Had either AIA, Freddie/Fannie collapsed, or had there been some major political obstacle to stimulus, we would be looking at 20%+ unemployment. People had to move heaven and earth to make the situation merely bad. In order to make the situation "merely bad", you had to have a set of very intricate financial transactions, any one of which could have blown up.

Something that is very interesting is if you look at Paulson and Bernanke testifying in Congress when this happened, you can see the *fear* in their eyes. We were maybe two days from total economic collapse.

Today the unemployment rate is 8.7%, which means !8.9% seasonally adjusted. At the height of the Great Depression it was three times higher.
Unemployment rates don't include people that haven't stopped looking for work, and it hits new job seekers particularly hard and it also hits people that have been out of work for a while. When you have 9% unemployment the first people that get work are people with experience that have recently been laid off. Also if you've been unemployed for an extended period (i.e. six months), you get put to the back of the line when it comes to new hiring.

The other thing that unemployment doesn't include is *underemployment*. If you have a Ph.D. and you are working minimum wage in Starbucks, you are employed. Also low skill jobs typically have no health insurance or stability which causes other problems.

And again, this is "merely bad". We came *very* close to something that was ten times worse, and it was just pure luck that kept us out of it.

At the peak of the boom, unemployment was still 3-4%.
You aren't looking at the factors that I've mentioned above.

Is this significant? Of course. Is it the only factor - or even the dominant factor? You can see the magnitude - sometimes it's a 15% help. Sometimes it's a 15% hinderance.
(**expletives deleted here**)

No it's not. The problem is that if you are in one of several vulnerable groups, one of which is new job seekers or someone that has been unemployed for a long time, then the swings become much larger.

Also the unemployment rate doesn't tell you how many new jobs are available. The number of *new* jobs is particular important, because it's only after we get through the top level that you can get to new hires.

At this point, I have to pull some rank and point out that I've actually been on both sides of the interview table. During the crash, we were specifically given orders not to hire anyone. The good news is that we've already burned through the pool of experienced people, and we are now looking at hiring new people with no experience.

It's heart-breaking for me because I see lots of talented people that would be an asset to the company, and I think to myself, I *wish* I could hire you, but we just don't have the headcount. There's also a lot of self-interest here, because I can imagine myself on the other side of the line.

I maintain that the proper reaction to that is to get better at it. It's a skill, like any others. That's far more productive than complaining about it.
Part of what we look for when we hire are people that can "constructively complain." One thing about our workplace is that people realize that if you don't keep complaining about stuff, inertia sets in. People feel good for a few years, and then we get killed by the competition.

The other thing about our work environment is that you can expect no quarter from the competition. If you are "nice" don't work like mad to get every last cent from the competition, then they will eat you alive.

Also in the end, if you have 15 places and 20 hires, someone is going to lose. If no one complains, then the people with the power aren't going to do anything about it. One person complaining can be ignoring, but twenty million people complaining puts the fear of God into politicians and bankers, and that's a good thing.
twofish-quant
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#18
May16-11, 08:59 PM
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I should point out that this is an excellent example of why you need to talk to "real people" and not just look at the numbers. You can look at unemployment and think that changing the rate from 3% to 10% isn't a big deal, but when you talk to people (both people that are looking for work and people that are hiring) you really find that it is. If you tell people that are looking for work to "stop complaining" you miss the fact that they really have something to complain about.

Also this hits physics people particularly hard. If you have one EE job and you have three resumes from people, two of which are EE's and one is a physics geek, you are likely to not hire the physics geek, because you have to have some justification to hire, and the EE degree becomes important. It's only if you have several jobs to offer that you'll look to hire someone "non-standard."

This has even worse effects. Once you have few jobs, the market freezes and then degrees become just lottery tickets.


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