You know that really annoying contrarian? Maybe he was in your grad school seminar. Or, perhaps, he was part of a listserv on public policy. Whatever. He was the guy who was always telling everybody they were wrong and--this is the annoying part--he often turned out to be right. You wished he weren't around, but you were also glad that he was.
Scott Winship is that guy. He's smart and, yes, he can be a real pain in the ass. The talk of an unemployment crisis got his attention. Maybe, he figured, this was another case of people misreading the data or, perhaps, misusing the data:
...the idea that there were 5 people looking for work for every job opening struck me as sounding overly alarmist. So I started looking into the numbers to determine whether I thought they were reliable. The figures folks are using rely on a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which unfortunately only goes back to December of 2000. But the Conference Board has put out estimates of the number of help wanted ads since the 1950s. Through mid-2005, the estimates were based on print ads, as far as I can tell, but the Conference Board then switched to monitoring online ads.
When I graphed the two Conference Board series (which requires some indexing to make them consistent--the print ad series being an index pegged to 1987 while the online series gives the actual number of ads) against the number of unemployed, and then the JOLT series against the unemployed, here's what I found:
I'll just say I was shocked and that I am much more sympathetic to extension of unemployment insurance than I was yesterday.