(Originally posted on 9/25/14 to a shared blog – http://blogtowork.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/number-stories/)
Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do. I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook. And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic. It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.
Statistics are stories told with numbers. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me? Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense. No, number stories – data meets the story arc. Very intriguing.
Why am I bringing this up here? Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers. We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news. But there are state and regional unemployment rates. Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.). Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.
What about the workforce participation rate? I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession. This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay. This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping. The story is in understanding better why it is dropping. And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?
Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking. This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker. This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position. Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.
There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea. These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one. Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied. The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.
It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple. Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position. At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.