Monday, November 04, 2013

The Flaw in Labor Force Data

There's a flaw in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' new report, Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2012 (PDF). The same flaw occurs in most labor force statistics produced by the BLS—the failure to distinguish "non-Hispanic whites" from the "white" racial category. By not making this distinction, a serious analysis of labor force characteristics by race and Hispanic origin is impossible.

Because Hispanics may be of any race and most (89 percent) are white, lumping Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites together distorts the picture. This wouldn't matter so much if white Hispanics were a tiny fraction of all whites in the labor force, but they are a substantial 18 percent. The BLS report states, for example, that "whites make up the majority of the labor force in 2012 (80 percent)." But if you subtract Hispanic whites from total whites, you discover that non-Hispanic whites are a much smaller 66 percent of the labor force—a more interesting and useful perspective on the American labor force.

Lumping Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites together also would not matter if workers were similar, but they are polar opposites. Non-Hispanic whites are one of the best-educated segments of the labor force while Hispanics are the least educated. Non-Hispanic whites are some of the workers most likely to be managers or professionals while Hispanics are least likely. Non-Hispanic whites have some of the highest wages while Hispanics have the lowest wages. By lumping them into one category, what could have been an interesting comparison of workers becomes a muddled mess.

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