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October 2003, Vol. 126, No. 10
Evaluating the BLS labor force projections to 2000
Howard N Fullerton Jr.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has made labor force projections since the late 1950s. Data for these projections are based on age, sex, race and Hispanic origin. Beginning in 1968, BLS has reviewed and evaluated past labor force projections to determine closeness to the actual figures. Such evaluations help both individuals making projections and those using the projections to understand the sources of error and the accuracy of specific components.
BLS projected the 2000 labor force at five different times, roughly 2 years apart. Of these 5 projections, 3 had errors of a million or less; the most extreme errors ranged 1.5 percent above or below the actual 2000 labor force of 140.9 million. The growth rate of the labor force is crucial to the BLS employment projections program. The error in the growth rate varied by a tenth of a percentage point above or below the actual growth rate for the periods over which the projection was made. At the same time, projections of the civilian noninstitutional population were uniformly low. Thus, the labor force participation rate projections were generally too high.
Until recently, BLS projections focused on years divisible by five, so evaluations took place at 5-year intervals. This article is an evaluation of the BLS labor force projections to 2000. Beginning in 1986 and continuing to 1994, BLS prepared five projections either to 2000 or through 2000.1 This article examines the difference between the projections and the labor force as estimated in the Current Population Survey (CPS) using weights from the 1990 census. The differences, or errors, are calculated by sex for detailed age groups of the white, black, Asian and other, and Hispanic origin population and labor force. (These earlier projections did not have as much age detail for Hispanics as for the other groups.) Each of the five projections to 2000 had three alternatives: high, moderate, and low. This analysis, for the most part, focuses on the middle or "moderate" growth projection in each series. Where appropriate, the accuracy of the five 2000 projections are compared with evaluations of BLS projections to 1985, 1990, and 1995. Each of the projections is identified by the year from which the projection was made (1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, and 1994).2
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1 Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "Labor force projections: 1986 to 2000," Monthly Labor Review, September 1987, pp. 19–29. Reprinted with additional detail in Projections 2000, BLS Bulletin 2302, March 1988. Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "New labor force projections, spanning 1988 to 2000," Monthly Labor Review, November 1989, pp. 3–12. Reprinted with additional detail in Outlook 2000, BLS Bulletin 2352, April 1990. Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "Labor force projections: the baby boom moves on," Monthly Labor Review, November 1991, pp. 31–44. Reprinted with additional detail in Outlook 1990–2005, BLS Bulletin 2402, May 1992. Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "Another look at the labor force," Monthly Labor Review, November 1993, pp. 31–40. Reprinted with additional detail in The American Work Force: 1992–2005, BLS Bulletin 2452, April 1994. Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "The 2005 labor force: growing, but slowly," Monthly Labor Review, November 1995, pp. 29–44.
2 Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "Evaluating the 1995 BLS labor force projections," Proceedings of the Section on Government Statistics and Section on Social Statistics (Alexandria, VA, American Statistical Association, 1997), pp. 394–99; Howard N, Fullerton, Jr., "An evaluation of labor force projections to 1990," Monthly Labor Review, August 1992, pp. 3–14; Howard N, Fullerton, Jr., "An evaluation of labor force projections to 1985," Monthly Labor Review, November 1988, pp. 7–17; Howard N, Fullerton, Jr., "How accurate were the 1980 labor force projections?," Monthly Labor Review, July 1982, pp. 15–21; Paul M. Ryscavage, "BLS labor force projections: a review of methods and results," Monthly Labor Review, April 1979, pp. 15–22; and Marc Rosenblum, "On the accuracy of labor force projections," Monthly Labor Review, October 1972, pp. 22–29.
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