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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Employment: Men, Women, Positions and People

by Bill McBride on 8/11/2009 10:30:00 AM

Saturday I posted a description of the differences between the Current Population Survey (CPS: commonly called the household survey), and the Current Employment Statistics (CES: payroll survey).

The CPS gives the total number of people employed (and unemployed), and the CES gives the total number of positions (excluding some categories like the self-employed, and a person working two jobs counts as two positions).

So if you wanted to compare the number of men vs. the number of women in the labor force, which survey would you use? Not the CES because that is a measure of positions, and a person working two jobs would be counted twice. Instead you'd want to use the CPS (a count of people, not positions).

However, Professor Casey Mulligan writes in the NY Times Economix: When Will Women Become a Work-Force Majority?

It is possible that, for the first time in American history, women will make up a majority of the labor force late this summer.
emphasis added
Uh, no.

First Mulligan means "work force" or "employed", not percent of labor force (the labor force includes unemployed workers too).

But more importantly, Mulligan means women will hold a majority of the positions as measured by the CES. Remember the CES excludes self-employed and farm jobs, and those are probably largely male. And perhaps women are more likely to work two jobs (the CES counts that as two positions).

Percent Men Women in Labor Force Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the percent of men and women in the U.S. labor force. The percentage have been pretty stready for the last 15 years, although the current recession is impacting men more than women.

According to the BLS, there are 10.1 million more men in the labor force than women, but only 7.4 million more men are working.

The unemployment rate for men (20 & over) is 9.8% compared to 7.5% for women. Including teens (16 & over), the unemployment rate for men is 10.5% compared to 8.1% for women.

Catherine Rampell at the NY Times Economix picks up Mulligan's error: The Mancession
Casey B. Mulligan noted, for example, that for the first time in American history women are coming close to representing the majority of the national work force.
At least Rampell used "work force" instead of "labor force" but she repeats Mulligan's error. Women are coming close to holding a majority of payroll jobs, but not a majority of the work force or labor force. Back in February, Rampell phrased it better:
With the recession on the brink of becoming the longest in the postwar era, a milestone may be at hand: Women are poised to surpass men on the nation’s payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history.
To belabor this point: Say there were 50 women and 100 men in the work force, and each women worked two jobs (men only one). The CES would report 200 payroll positions; half for men, and half for women. The CPS would report 150 people had jobs, 50 women and 100 men. Would it be correct to say there were as many women in the work force as men? No.

Both surveys have value, and I'm using this to make a point: The CES is about positions. The CPS is about people.

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