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BLS Data: Analysis and Two Challenges

I have two small projects as a challenge. Both would require merely the ability to download and graph BLS data. That’s below the graphs — here’s  an analysis of mine as an example.
I suspected (“my hypothesis”) that the decline in labor force participation during our ongoing Great Recession reflected baby boomers retiring. I was wrong. Participation by the age 25-54 age bracket declined by more than the national average.
Here are my key graphs.
Now for potential projects for you.
  1. First, I’ve read/heard many stories about the fiscal crisis at the state and local level; for example listen to the podcast of Program #459 of  “This American Life” (March 14, 2012) “What Kind of Country” with the following tagline: “All across the country right now, local and state governments are finding they can’t pay their bills. Schools are losing teachers, street lights are going dark, garbage is piling up in public parks, and cops are suddenly an optional expense.” They follow up with interviews of how (for example) local street gangs responded when 1/3 of police were fired in a NJ city. But I’ve also read stories of towns that, having laid off lots of employees, are now rehiring.
    OK, so what do the data show? Find data on local government employment for your state! — the BLS has numbers. Are some states continuing to cut, and others to add, so that the national story of a modest decline hides a large divergence in behavior? As far as I know, the data only let you distinguish “local government, other” and “local government, education”.
  2. Second, my parallel test (directly examining LF participation of older age brackets) is flawed because the very terminology of “baby boom” presumes that age composition of our population matters. The participation rate of older americans is lower than the average, so if the share of that group relative to the whole population increases — the baby boom hypothesis — then the average for the entire population must fall. So … how many baby boomers have retired? How does that number compare (or will likely compare, over the next few years)  with the number of unemployed younger workers? Maybe we could title the results: Is Grandma Keeping You from Working?
    My hunch is “no”, that retirement for the population as a whole is gradual even if that for an individual is sudden, and that “boomer” retirement will be spread over enough years to mute its impact.
    I hope I’m again wrong.


  1. Here’s something that parallels the local-state employment issue:

    Angry Bear Blog that shows a large drop in federal, state and local (non-defense) investment.

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