Thursday, January 14, 2016

This Year’s Biggest Changes in Outlook

Early last month, the Employment Projections office at the Department of Labor released its projections for the decade from 2014 to 2024. Later in the same month, the BLS released the text of the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), which was based in part on those projections. Both of these resources are updated every two years, and I thought you’d be as interested as I am in seeing which occupations have the forecasts that are the most greatly revised from the previous update.

The economic models that BLS uses are not foolproof. Sometimes new data comes in that makes the economists at BLS realize they have significantly overestimated or underestimated the growth an occupation can expect. The outlook may change for many reasons, such as new developments in technology, international trade, consumer tastes, or the formulas Medicare uses in reimbursing health-care providers. For an understanding of what may have changed, I find it useful to look at the “Job Outlook” section text of the OOH statement (article) about an occupation, comparing the wording in the previous edition to the wording that appears there now. (You can make the same comparisons by looking at the previous OOH edition stored in the Wayback Machine site.) But often it’s hard to find a good explanation of what accounts for the revised forecast.

A useful example is Wind Turbine Technicians. This is the occupation with the greatest increase in its projected growth: from a formidable 24 percent growth projected for 2012–2022 to an amazing 108 percent projected for 2014–2024. However, the OOH outlook wording has changed very little between the previous edition’s statement and the current edition’s. The major difference is that only the previous edition has this wording: “In addition, the Renewable Electricity Standard calls for 25 percent of U.S. electric power generation to come from renewable sources by 2025, which should further drive employment growth.” Although the new edition doesn’t mention the Renewable Electricity Standard, presumably this commitment is continuing to drive growth, but it’s interesting to note that the number of states with this standard in place has not increased over the past three years—both then and now, it came to 29 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories. A change that may be more relevant to the revised forecast appears in the wording regarding offshore wind turbines. The current edition lacks a cautionary sentence that appears in the previous edition: “However, the high cost of building wind towers in the ocean may inhibit new offshore projects from being approved.” Still, I wonder whether the cost of building offshore turbines has fallen enough to make this sentence no longer necessary.

I don’t want to make too much of this apparent disconnect between the greatly changed numbers and the mostly unchanged prose. The outlook section notes that this is a very small occupation (in fact, employing only 4,400 workers in 2014), so the sextupling of projected new job openings, from 800 to 4,800, still does not represent a large number of new opportunities.

Something similar seems to have happened with another small occupation, Forensic Science Technicians. In the past two years, its ten-year job-growth projection has soared upward from 6 percent to 27 percent. However, the OOH outlook section has changed little from the previous edition. In fact, the main difference is that only the latest edition offers this advisory sentence: “Larger police departments will be more able to staff full-time forensic science technicians, but they, too, may face budget constraints.” Again, both editions note that this is a very small occupation (with 14,400 workers in 2014), so relatively small changes in the economy can cause a large change in outlook without actually creating a comparably large number of new jobs.

Not all the occupations with greatly changed forecasts were those with small workforces. For example, Personal Care Aides (1.8 million workers) had its growth projection cut almost by half: from 49 percent to 26 percent. Yet, again, the text of the OOH outlook section shows almost no revision, except for the removal of the word “companionship” (as one of the functions of the occupation) in two places and the removal of this paragraph: “Clients often prefer to be cared for in their own homes, rather than a home care facility or hospital. Studies have found that home treatment is frequently more effective than care in a nursing home or hospital.”

Another large occupation with a big change in forecast is Market Research Analysts, which was projected to grow by 32 percent for 2012–2022 but only by 19 percent for 2014–2024. In the wording of the OOH outlook section, there is one hint of a reason for this change. The following sentence was cut from the current OOH: “Rapid employment growth in most industries means good job opportunities should be available.” This deletion reflects the overall downward forecast for job growth: The projection for all occupations changed from 10.8 percent to 6.5 percent. I compared the old projections with the new ones and found a mean (unweighted) change of -5.5 percentage points.

Nevertheless, for occupations that had greatly changed forecasts, I would appreciate a better indication in the OOH outlook section of what factors have changed expectations.

Here is a list of the 20 OOH occupations that had the greatest revisions (either upward or downward) in their projections for job growth.

Projection for 
Job Growth
Wind Turbine Technicians
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers 
and Cardiovascular Technologists 
and Technicians, Including Vascular 
Market Research Analysts
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, 
and Nurse Practitioners
Mental Health Counselors and 
Marriage and Family Therapists
Skincare Specialists
Insulation Workers
Medical Equipment Repairers
Political Scientists
Meeting, Convention, and Event Planners
Personal Care Aides
Software Developers
Health Educators and Community 
Health Workers
Surveying and Mapping Technicians
Radiologic and MRI Technologists
Pest Control Workers
Forensic Science Technicians
Nursing Assistants and Orderlies
Bill and Account Collectors


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