Friday, March 12, 2010

Does UC-Davis know labor contractors are farm jobs?

An NBC affiliate in Bakersfiled called me on Wednesday to ask questions about the farm job issue. Many of the questions seemed designed to provoke an inflammatory comment from me about local Congressmen or Dr. Howitt that would make sensational TV news. I gave very boring, cautious answers to these questions because I was concerned about how it might be edited. Upon viewing the video report, it appears the reporter did a very balanced piece and I may have been overly cautions. The quotes from Dr. Howitt definitely got my attention. When the reporter asked me if this data showed that Dr. Howitt was wrong, maybe I should have just said "yes" instead of giving a long, boring, semi-answer that would never make the program.

Maybe he was taken out of context, but the report sure gives the impression that Dr. Howitt is spinning the latest revised farm jobs data as if it proves his estimate was on target. If you read my post from a few days ago, especially the part that compares farm job losses between regions (a bigger decrease in farm jobs outside the Valley than inside the Valley), you should find this hard to believe.

The TV report correctly notes 5,500 lost jobs in the San Joaquin Valley, then Dr. Howitt seems to suggest that this shows he was right because it was close to the 6,370 direct jobs he estimated in his revised September report, which then became 21,000 total lost jobs with all the indirect/induced effects. It's amazing that he would equate reported farm jobs with the direct losses in his study, because Dr. Howitt made major adjustments to his last study to increase the number of indirect farm jobs (labor contractors) estimated in the input-output model.

The 5,500 lost farm jobs in the new EDD data includes both direct farm employees and farm labor contractors. Farm labor contractor jobs are indirect jobs, because it is an input a farm hires from another company. The appendix to his report (see page 10) shows it plain as day, he estimated 6,370 direct farm jobs and another 6,047 indirect jobs in the farm sector (mostly in agricultural support services which is labor contractors) for a total of 12,423 lost Farm sector jobs. Labor contractor jobs are "indirect jobs" because these farm workers are not directly on the farm's payroll, but they are very much included in the Farm sector as defined in EDD and BLS data. Farm sector jobs are the vast majority of the indirect jobs, not the non-farm job categories he cites as examples in the TV report. 12,243 is more than double 5,500. It is understandable for a reporter or a non-economist to be confused by this aspect of the numbers, but it's unacceptable for an economist studying employment. Does he not understand this or is he intentionally trying to confuse the press?

You can watch the video of the report here. (Video is in upper right corner of page.)

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