15 Feb 2010

Are lost "ag" jobs really fishing jobs?

DH sent this article with the following note:
As someone employed in the seafood processing industry in San Francisco, its long been a pet peeve of mine that when ever Ag employment statistics are quoted they include fishing. The Capitol Press article was one of the few articles I've seen that actually points this out.

An annual average of monthly farm employment in 2009 shows 389,225 people working in agriculture, down from 390,850 in 2008. That's a drop of less than 1 percent.

Now consider this note from DFG:

This year’s salmon fishing closures on Central Valley salmon stocks will cost California an estimated $279 million in lost revenue and 2,690 jobs.
He then wonders if "it is possible that ALL of the net loss in 'Ag jobs' is due to the closure of salmon fishing?"

I cc'd Jeff Michael on this question and he said this:
You can't make the argument DH does, that all that loss is accounted for by fishing because jobs data is different. The article is about payroll jobs. It doesn't cover proprietorships and self-employment, which is an extremely large share of fishing employment, and it doesn't include indirect (i.e. multiplier) effects.

The DFG numbers most likely include indirect effects and cover both payroll jobs and proprietorships/self-employment (they are also probably limited to CA losses, even though I think the salmon closure impacts spread north into Oregon). I think the DFG estimate is very reasonable but I bet no more than 10 percent or a few hundred are included in these particular estimates of farm payrolls. DFG is estimating a very believable 10 total jobs per $1 million in fisheries revenue, compared to the very unbelievable 30-50 jobs per $1 million in farm revenue that has been used by DWR and Dept. of Food and Ag for the past year.

Although I think DH is pushing the numbers a bit too far, I can hardly blame him given the rhetoric from the other side. I think a strong case can be made that the job loss from the Smelt pumping restrictions and the job loss from closing the Salmon fishery are close in magnitude, but it is hard to put precise numbers on them.
I agree with both DH and Jeff: Yes, "ag" job losses include losses in the fishing industry, and yes, those losses are not the ONLY losses in the ag sector.

Bottom Line: Macro statistics are vague and tricky, and it takes considerable effort to interpret them without bias.