Friday, August 8, 2008

New Research 2

OK, so the second paper that's been emerging is going to be called something like "Unemployment in the Upper Tidewater: A Job Flows Approach".

Background: Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland have had impressively low unemployment rates for the last two decades or so. I've read reports in the business press (which I should really track down again for this paper) refering to the region as "recession-proof". Oft-cited reasons are government contracts and the IT boom in the region, and the explosive population growth which keeps construction and service workers employed as well. It's very insightful to look at the BLS's LAUS (local area unemployment statistics) maps. Maps for 1999 and 2000 - before the last recession - are especially instructive. Northern Virginia is one big patch of white on the map's color scale - under 2% unemployment. The largest area of land in the country that had unemployment under 2% at the time. Not far to the west, West Virginia is dark purple - one of the largest contiguous areas of high unemployment in the country.

So lots of justifications for why Northern Virginia does so well have been forthcoming - one other explanation I want to explore is the relationship between job flows and unemployment. There are two job flows that people look at: job creation, and job destruction. Job creation occurs when a firm expands its workforce. Job creation statistics are different from hiring and firing statistics. A firm of 50 employs can hire 25 employees and fire 25 employees, and they've added nothing to job creation statistics. Job destruction is just the opposite - the number of positions a company has eliminated. So job creation and job destruction tell a slightly different story from employment, hiring, firing, and unemployment statistics. Net change in employment has to equal job creation minus job destruction - but the job flow dynamics in an economy may differ from their employment dynamics.

John Haltiwanger, of the University of Maryland, has lead the way in research on job creation and destruction. In his most famous book on the subject (creatively called "Job Creation and Destruction"), Haltiwanger identifies many properites of job flows, and in one chapter explores the relationship between job flows and unemployment. The overarching conclusion is that during periods of high unemployment, job destruction spikes and job creation remains relatively constant. It sounds fairly straightforward, but it's an important finding with policy implications. The policy response to this finding would be different, for example, from the policy response if job destruction stayed relatively constant during recessions, and job creation declined significantly.

The problem with Haltiwanger's research is that he primarily looks at aggregate job flow and unemployment statistics. However, the Census's Quarterly Workforce Indicators provide county level job flow data to track whether these relationships occur at the local level. The problem is, these data are only available for certain states at certain times. Very important states - like Massachusetts, Ohio, and New York haven't even produced any. Some, like Maryland, produce the statistics as far back as 1990. So it's a crapshoot. I've been poking around each state's website to see how good their statistics are, and I've discovered that every state in the Fifth Federal Reserve District (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, DC, North Carolina, and South Carolina) have data going back to at least 1998 - in other words, covering the last recession.

My plan is to run Haltiwanger's basic analysis on every state in these counties, and determine whether high unemployment counties have a different relationship between job flows and unemployment than low unemployment counties in the district. In other words, does the Upper Tidewater behave just like Haltiwanger's national statistics - only with a smaller increase in job destruction - or does it show different patterns entirely? Perhaps the Upper Tidewater sees a spike of job creation and job destruction during recessions - a sort of "creative destruction" a la Schumpeter. I think it should be interesting.

If things work out, all these stats are available by industry as well.

I envision this being presented at a brown bag at work, where I'll refine it, and then submitted to a minor labor economics journal. Perhaps the Journal of Labor Research, which is published by George Mason. I want a good shot of getting in and publishing something in a journal for once - that's all. I think it's a decent idea - and it would be useful for policymakers in schizophrenic states with areas of very high and very low unemployment. Or even for whole countries where this occurs, like Belgium... in fact, I wonder if Belgium publishes gross job flow statistics....


JSN said...

I can help?

Yup :)

Not with the research. I understood everything you said, but can't add one tidbit of information.

Why is the DOW up and Oil down with an incipient war in the Caucasus? Just because it isn't the Balkans? There are definitely Caucasus pipelines.

Anyway, I might be able to help because I make really nice maps: A U.S. county map that you can plug in numbers for.

JSN said...

Oh, the full size map is 3ft by 4ft.

dkuehn said...

That looks great!

I'm at the beginning stages of this, but I would want something like this eventually. BLS produces nice unemployment maps so that is covered - but it would be good to show job flows.

People I work with use ArcGIS, but I'm not sure if that's the best for the county level maps.

I have no resources to speak of to support this work - it's not funded by my organization, so its all on my own time. But if, further down the line, you wouldn't mind talking about some collaboration on this I'd really appreciate it.