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August 1992, Vol. 115, No. 8
BLS employment projections for 1990: an evaluation
Norman C. Saunders
The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly prepares projections of alternative future growth paths of U.S. aggregate economic activity and of the employment by industry generated by those projections.1 The economic projections form the basis for occupational employment projections, which in turn underlie occupational outlook information prepared by the Bureau for use in career guidance and education planning. The projections also are used by other Federal agencies, State employment security agencies, and firms in the private sector. Because of their widespread usage, the Bureau regularly evaluates the projections against actual historical data covering the projected years as the data become available.
This evaluation is the final stage of the projection process, effectively closing the books on a given year's projections, and allows the Bureau to identify both strengths and weaknesses in the preparation of the projections. As a result, users gain insights into the accuracy of the projected values. This article examines projections of 1990 economic activity and employment, in the aggregate and by industry, and is part of a continuing effort to improve and refine the projections.2 The article also compares the accuracy of the 1990 projections with that of projections for earlier years.
Over the period 1978 to 1985, the Bureau published four sets of aggregate economic and industry employment projections for the year 1990.3 In each of these, one projection - usually the so-called moderate scenario - is used as the basic alternative, and the others are variations of it. In part for ease of presentation, in this article the evaluation at the detailed level will concentrate on this basic alternative in each projection set. At the aggregate level, however, all alternatives will be examined.
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1 The latest projections, titled "Outlook: 1990-2005," appeared as a series of articles in the November 1991 Monthly Labor Review. Such medium-term projections are prepared on a 2-year cycle for the labor force, in detail; for aggregate economic activity; for industry-level output and employment; and for occupational demand by industry. A full statement of the methodology underlying BLS projections in general is included in Outlook: 1990-2005, Bulletin 2402 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 1992).
2 The Bureau has published evaluations of projections for the years 1970, 1975, 1980, and 1985. For the latest labor force and aggregate/industry evaluations, see Howard N Fullerton, Jr., "An evaluation of labor force projections to 1985," Monthly Labor Review, November 1988, pp. 7-17; and John H. Tschetter, "An evaluation of BLS projections of the 1985 economy," Monthly Labor Review, September 1988, pp. 24-33. For the most recent published evaluation of occupational projections, see Max L. Carey and Kevin Kasunic, "Evaluating the 1980 projections of occupational employment," Monthly Labor Review, July 1982, pp. 22-30.
3 Aggregate economic projections for 1990 are in the following Monthly Labor Review articles: Norman C. Saunders, "The U.S. economy to 1990: two projections for growth," December 1978, pp. 36-46; Norman C. Saunders, "The U.S. economy through 1990-an update," August 1981, pp. 1827; Arthur J. Andreassen, Norman C. Saunders, and Betty W. Su, "Economic outlook for the 1990's: three scenarios for economic growth," November 1983, pp. I 1 -23; and Betty W. Su, "The economic outlook to 1995: new assumptions and projections," November 1985, pp. 3-16. Industry employment projections are in the following Monthly Labor Review articles by Valerie A. Personick: "Industry output and employment: BLS projections to 1990," April 1979, pp. 3-14; "The outlook for industry output and employment through 1990," August 1981, pp. 28-41; "The job outlook though 1995; industry output and employment," November 1983, pp. 24-39; and "A second look at industry output and employment trends to 1995," November 1985, pp. 26-41.
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