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Out & About in Cleveland

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What's Up with the Labor Market? At the City Club

On Tuesday, May 19th, we attended a luncheon at the City Club of Cleveland where the speaker was Ms. Erica L. Groshen, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and her presentation was titled "What's Up with the Labor Market?" which was part of the City Club's Business Leaders Series designed to invite "national and global leaders within their industries to join the conversation with our region's corporate and civic communities." One of the sponsors of this program was "Inside Business Magazine" so we said hello to Ms. Sarah Desmond, Advertising Director, who told us to tell Ms. Margaret W. Wong that "the friends of 'Inside Business' say hello."

Prior to the start of the program we stopped to talk to Mr. Thomas R. Bowne, Chief Economist with the Freedonia Group which was another one of the sponsors (along with Meaden and Moore, Lifebanc, Falls Communications, Ideastream, and WKYC-TV). We told Mr. Bowne that we were from Margaret W. Wong and Associates and that we really liked his bright red tie decorated in gold with Chinese drawings. Mr. Bowne laughed and said that his tie had "immigrated" to Cleveland from Guangzhou. He also said that he, himself, attends St. Dominic's just as Ms. Margaret W. Wong does.

We shared a table with Ms. Jessica Ice and other staffers of the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland where Ms. Groshen worked for seven years before she was appointed to her post in January, 2013. Sitting right next to us was Dr. Marietta Morrissey, Ph.D., Professor Emerita in the Dept. of Sociology/Anthropology at the University of Toledo. It turned out that Dr. Morrissey has done a lot of research on migrant workers as well as worked with Catholic Charities on Immigration issues so we had a good discussion during lunch.

Ms. Groshen was introduced by Mr. Frank Bird, the publisher of "Inside Business" who set the tone for her presentation when he quoted her as saying "statistics are a public good" that everyone uses/has the right to use because it helps them to make better decisions.

Ms. Groshen said that the purpose of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which employs 2,400 people, is to measure labor market activity, working conditions and price changes in the economy. It is an independent national statistical agency that collects, processes, analyses and disseminates essential statistical data to the American public, U.S. Congress, other federal agencies, state and local governments, business and labor. She went on to say that the BLS is a steward of the public trust and is guided by the principles of Accuracy, Objectivity, Relevance, Timeliness, and Accessibility. Ms. Groshen was quick to point out that the first letters of those words spell AORTA which is the largest artery in the human body which reflects the importance of the BLS; so many people and organizations rely on their data that if it were only 1/10th of a percent off many lives and livelihoods could be damaged.

Ms. Groshen then talked about how their surveys are conducted and the importance of confidentiality. She went on to cite ways that businesses and people use the statistics. An example for business might be to determine plant locations and to help them make decisions regarding sales and purchases. A person might use the data to help him/her make decisions regarding career and education.

She devoted the last part of her presentation to talking about what the statistics revealed in terms of the economic recoveries of the United States and Ohio. Ms. Groshen made use of a power point to display a "Recovery Margins Scoreboard" that was very specific in terms of what was happening in terms of layoffs, work hours, hirings in general, selective hirings, participation, reallocation, and compensation that very much impressed us.

Afterwards, we asked Ms. Groshen about the trend of the hiring of foreign born workers. She said that during the recession it was down but now that there is an ongoing recovery she imagined that the situation has changed for the better but she didn't have any statistics to demonstrate this at her fingertips. Mr. Bird was standing beside Ms. Groshen and said that he thought that our question was a good one. Ms. Groshen strongly advised us to call or email the BLS to obtain this information because the Bureau of Labor Statistics exists to help us all with legitimate questions.

Tuesday night we went to the Westlake Democratic Club meeting because the speaker was Mr. Sandy McNair, Democratic Board Member of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. We wanted to ask Mr. McNair about what was being done to assist people with election materials and the process of voting who had immigrated to the United States from other countries and might be still struggling with the English language particularly when it comes to understanding instructions and summations that are often confusing to people like us who have lived in the United States all of our lives.

Mr. McNair said he believed that his mission was to make voting as accessible and as easy a process as possible. He explained that the ballots/election materials are only in English and Spanish and the reason that they are in Spanish is because of the United States' relationship with Puerto Rico in which Spanish is the primary language and its people are United States citizens.

Thus he said that there would be problems putting out a ballot/election materials in an Asian language. Mr. McNair did say, though, that it might be possible to assign bilingual poll workers to the Asian precincts in Cleveland to offer assistance.

We think that this is a very good idea and we intend to pass it.

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