Journalistic malfeasance when writing about statistics
I saw several stories on my social media about the "fastest growing occupations in the United States” over the next decade. The list was put together by the reputable US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In total, the BLS is expecting 11.9 million incremental jobs by 2030 across the county. The stories I read (three) all focused on the fact that green energy jobs were the ‘fastest’ growing jobs in the U.S. Here is an excerpt from CNBC:
Now, I have used my blog from time to time to talk about the appropriate use of economic and demographic statistics. I find that some journalists are pretty fast and loose with how the position data points such as this.
When you read this statement what do you think? That there will be massive new jobs in green energy, of course. The journalist all but tells you that - “Interest in wind and solar energy has skyrocketed” after all.
Here is the list published by the BLS but this time by the number of jobs that will be created by 2030:
I’m not kidding. This is literally a screen shot of the BLS data. There are going to be more jobs created as film and video editors than wind turbine technicians. For pete’s sake, there will be more actors - more statistician jobs created than wind turbine techs and solar installers combined!
So the journalist wasn’t lying. The percentage change was higher for wind turbine techs but when you talk about something like the outlook for jobs over next 10 years the absolute number is really all that matters.
The journalist obviously wanted to gin up the fact that the green energy revolution is going to create massive new jobs. A more accurate story here would have focused on the real jobs that will be in demand - 1.1 million home care workers, 560,000 cooks, 121,000 exercise trainers, 115,000 nurse practitioners - in fact most of the occupations with the biggest expansion are in health care.
When you see data like this it is important to tell the story that matters. The % change is only a small part of the story. As I have said before, if you have $1.00 and someone gives you $9 more you now have ten times as much as you had before but you really only have $9 more dollars. If you have $1 million and someone gives you $10 more you really have $10 more dollars (0.001% more as a percentage).