Last month the Romney campaign cited Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to report that 92% of all job losses since President Obama took office in January of 2009 were suffered by women. The media reaction to the Romney campaign’s claim was mixed, but most analysts did not question the accuracy of the underlying data. Some analysts opined that it was expected that most of the job losses in the past three years occurred for women because government employment has contracted slightly since January 2009. My blog post from April showed that 95% of the jobs eliminated at the U.S. Postal Service were held by women. The problem with all of these analyses is that they are based on faulty data.
The BLS announced on its website yesterday that:
Estimates of women employees in the U.S. Postal Service and some related series from the Current Employment Statistics survey were temporarily removed from the BLS data-retrieval system on May 14, 2012. BLS staff discovered data-processing errors that occurred during the November 2009–April 2012 period and resulted in an incorrect ratio of women employees to all employees. Correcting these errors will increase the number of women employees but does not affect total employment levels. Series of women employees were removed for the U.S. Postal Service, federal government, government, service-providing, and total nonfarm.
Although I am not sure about how the BLS discovered their error, I believe I have an explanation. Alan Robinson of the Direct Communications Group (@CEP_Observer) didn’t believe the numbers in my April blog post (three weeks ago) about women’s job losses at the US Postal Service. After I sent him the data I used and a link to the BLS website, Alan still didn’t believe the data. His inquiries to the BLS caused their economists and statisticians to take a closer look at the data, which uncovered the apparent errors.
The BLS is assigned an incredibly difficult task, and generally produces extremely reliable and valuable data. This time they made a mistake, and are working to correct the problem. Until the establishment employment data for women are updated, our best information on the gender composition of job losses comes from the household survey, also administered by the BLS and the Census Bureau. The household survey shows that the fraction of the adult population that was employed:
- Declined from 66.2% to 64.3% for men, between January 2009 and April 2012
- Declined from 55.3% to 53.0% for women, between January 2009 and April 2012
Women comprise about 52% of the working age (civilian) population. The 2.3% decline in employment relative to population for women means that 2.89 million fewer women were employed in April 2012 than would have occurred if the employment to population ratio for women had remained steady since January 2009. Similarly, there are 2.24 million fewer men employed in April 2012 than would have occurred if the employment to population ratio for men had remained constant since January 2009.
The calculations above indicate that the best estimate is that 56.5% of the relative employment declines since January 2009 were suffered by women. Next month the BLS will post updated data on the gender composition of employment based on the establishment survey. There are many reasons why the household and establishment survey data will look somewhat different, but it is likely that the revised establishment numbers will mirror the household data and show that the majority (but far less than 92%) of the jobs lost since January 2009 were jobs held by women.