Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Mendacious use of stats [updated]

John Pagani suggested changes in apprenticeship funding could have been responsible for the increase in youth unemployment that I've ascribed to the abolition of the differential lower youth minimum wage. It seemed a plausible explanation. But one of my helpful commenters, Luis, links through to the actual stats on apprenticeship uptake.

Pagani cited numbers on total enrolment in apprenticeship programmes. Those figures seemed really high if they were meant to represent 15-19 year olds. There's no way that a third of all people in that age bracket were in apprenticeship and industry training programmes. TEC stats, courtesy of Luis, show 13,859 15-19 year olds in training as of 31 December 2008 and 9,657 in training as of 31 December 2010. So roughly 4000 fewer kids are in training programmes than were in training at the end of the last Labour government. But excess youth unemployment is now around 13,000. And, I'd be shocked if apprenticeship figures weren't fairly pro-cyclical - the construction industry, among others, will be less willing to take on apprentices when the economy's doing poorly. At least some of that 4k drop would then come down to economic conditions that have already been accounted for in my simple regressions.

If we had TEC data going back farther than December 2008, I could run some simple projections of what we would have expected training numbers to be given the recession. But it doesn't, so I can't.

Here's what Pagani said:
One other big change was the a sharp fall in young people getting skills for work. In December 2008 there were 133,300 people in industry training. By the end of last year, there were 108,000. No wonder unemployment has gone up.
So he doesn't explicitly lie by saying that the 133k represented youths in training. But he sure makes it easy for lay readers who don't know there are only about 320k people total in the 15-19 age cohort to assume as much. And, despite it being a blog post rather than a print newspaper column, he doesn't link back to the TEC stats that are the source of his figure so that folks can't easily check things for themselves. Pretty smelly, John.

Update: And, of course, there's the obvious point that if the changes hit both adults and youths, they'll be reflected in both adult and youth unemployment rates, and so we should still expect adult unemployment rates to predict youth unemployment rates. If youths were about a tenth of all trainees, that's not a lot higher than their proportion of the overall workforce (around 7% depending on the quarter you choose as labour force participation rates vary).

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