Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Scarcest Resource: Our Time

In the previous post, we complimented Brad DeLong for pulling together a variety of verbal viewpoints and graphical viewpoints to form a fuller picture of the meaning of the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report on employment.

Having six pictures of different view of the employment situation definitely adds to understanding.

One of the things that often interferes with our ability to understand a complex mix of information is TIME - the time we have to look at what someone is presenting. In this case, even though Brad did a lot of work for us in advance, for us to actually see the trend pictures that he has assembled requires many mouse clicks or key strokes and a lot of our precious time. I would bet that there will be many people who get to Brad's blog entry, find it interesting, but never follow the links. What a shame.

For those who do, my guess is that they will find the experience disjointed. There is an interruption between each graph viewing that disrupts the processes at work within our heads. If there are any network delays as we navigate from one web page to another, that would make it even worse and more of a jumble.

In this post, I am going ask you to join me in an experiment. I recognize that your time is precious and I appreciate any time you chose to spend checking this out.

I would like to know whether being able to scroll down through all the graphs without having to jump from web page to web page makes it easier or harder for you to understand Brad's selected charts.

So rather than following the links from the previous post, please follow the steps below to jump into Brad's BLOG where a series of employment related graphs has been posted to multiple blog entries that are physically near each other on the page.

Let me know if you think the scrolling approach makes cutting through data easier.

First step) In Brad DeLong's Journal archive for January 2006 , please scroll down or SEARCH till you find the entry titled: "Unemployment: The Importance of "Seasonal Adjustment" dated on January 8th at 1:49 PM.

Step two) Starting at that point, scroll down, and one by one check out the series of graphs that appear in the series of posts stretching backwards in time.

You will see the following graphs, some with nearby commentaries.

1) Unemployment: The Importance of "Seasonal Adjustment" - the graph with this entry shows both the trend for the seasonally adjusted unemployment percentage (blue line), and for the more erratic red line showing the unadjusted unemployment percentage month by month. The period covered is 2000 to 2006. The seasonally adjusted rate is notably smoother.

2) Thirty Years of the Unemployment Rate - This next chart shows the unemployment percentage for a period from 1970 to 2006. It is not stated, but this and the charts that follow are likely seasonally adjusted charts.

3) Scrolling past a few other posts, you come to: Three Years of the Unemployment Rate - which shows the most recent history for the period from the beginning of 2003 through the end of 2005. The rate shown is seasonally adjusted.

4) Employment-to-Population Ratio - this chart shows the period from 1948 to the present. This is the percentage of the adult working age population that were employed during the month.

5) Unemployment and Underemployment - This next post shows what I believe to be a particularly important metric that is normally ignored or overlooked when evaluating the BLS' monthly employment reports. It doesn't have a catchy name at this time and the explanation of how it is calculated leaves most people breathless and rolling their eyes.

For now, I will call this the WANT WORK PERCENTAGE. This is the percentage of people of working age who fit one of the following three categories.

a) classified as unemployed by the BLS (people who have looked for work in the last 4 weeks)

b) want a job but are not considered unemployed by the BLS (the so called "marginally attached")

c) people who are working part time but not through their own choice - they would prefer to be working full time.

All these people WANT WORK - either a job or more hours to make their job full time.

The period for this chart is from 1995 through the end of 2005 or 11 years.

6) Long-Term Unemployed - the percentage of the labor force that has been unemployed for 15 weeks or longer. The period of this chart is also 1995-the end of 205.

7) Payroll Survey Employment Growth since 1994 - This shows the month to month net gain in payroll jobs. The period goes back to January 1994 through the end of 2005 or 12 years.

Was this easier than linking?

Was this better for you to scroll rather than link back and forth?

Was this faster?

What else did you learn?

What could have made your viewing even more pleasant?

What might have saved even more time?

In the next post, I will propose a third approach to these charts that I think you will find even easier and better.

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