Local resources for employment stats

All of us first-semester students at the CUNY J-School will be covering jobs and employment in NYC this semester, as part of a shared theme between the various sections of Interactive Fundamentals.

Greg David, the director of the Business and Economics program here, kicked things off yesterday with a briefing where suddenly we found ourselves immersed in the details of economics reporting: the trouble with month-to-month comparisons; the question of “seasonal adjustment”; the difference between a two percent change and a two percentage point change.

David also mentioned some useful resources in terms of local employment data. I’ve been familiarizing myself with some of them; here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve learned:

  • Locally, the best jobs data comes from the research department of Eastern Consolidated, a real estate investment giant. Their monthly NYC Employment Alert, which parses and seasonally adjusts the state’s employment figures, is the basis for much business reporting in the local press.
  • Crain’s City Facts, a yearly statistical portrait of the city’s economy, is “super useful,” according to David. The 2010 edition, entitled “The Great Recession that Wasn’t,” has sixteen economy-related sections, from real estate to tourism to employment and health care.
  • At the state level, the liberal-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute issues a detailed annual jobs report. The latest version, covering 2010, is entitled “The State of Working New York: The Unemployment Crisis Two Years Into Recovery.” Read the press release or full report.
  • The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics does offer some data at the regional and municipal level. Over at their “Smoothed Seasonally Adjusted Metropolitan Area Estimates” table, you can find statistics covering “New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island.” And–the numbers are seasonally adjusted! Finer-grained breakdowns, including numbers for New York City alone, are available from the BLS’s New York-New Jersey home page.
  • Finally, the New York State Department of Labor website offers a wealth of data covering employment, unemployment, wages, and the labor supply. They also supply regional breakdowns, with NYC broken out as its own region. Nice.

Here’s a question: are New York State’s unemployment figures collected by the federal BLS, or independently by a state agency? The NYS jobs press release for July contains the following note: “The responsibility for the production of monthly estimates of state and metro area nonfarm employment by industry moved from the Division of Research and Statistics to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), starting with March 2011 estimates.” Can anyone explain?

Bits of brain that do special things

We’re in the midst of a golden age in cognitive neuroscience. With the advent of functional MRI, scientists can now peer into the brain while it’s doing stuff. One of the things they’ve found is that the brain is more modular than previously understood. The closer they look, the more little specialized bits they find.

These findings have been reported in popular media with decidedly mixed results, as discussed over at BrainBlogger. The science is so tantalizing, so suggestive, that its claims are often simplified and exaggerated. To get a sense of what’s really going on, it’s worth dipping into the scientific literature. Nancy Kanwisher, a neuroscientist at MIT, has written a fascinating review article that’s accessible to nonspecialists. It’s a model of good science writing — literate, pleasingly contextual, and well worth a read.

One specialized brain area Kanwisher and her colleagues have identified is known as the fusiform face area. Abnormalities in this piece of brain can result in a condition known as prosopagnosia, or face blindess  — a severe inability to recognize faces. This piece in Wired offers a good, if breathless, account of both recent prosopagnosia research and the lived experience of face blindness. (Disclosure: I am faceblind, as are a few fellow journalists I know of.)