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Is Hartford's 10th-Best-Place-to-Find-a-Job Ranking in Forbes Totally Bogus?

Jon Campbell

January 14, 2011

Forbes, one of the nation’s most prestigious business magazines, recently bestowed some good news on the city of Hartford, ranking it the 10th-best city in the country to go looking for a job. The Forbes imprimatur being what it is, the good news was picked up by the Hartford Courant, Bristol Press, MSNBC.com, and various other news outlets. Related research was even touted by Hartford’s own Mayor Pedro Segarra.

Hartford’s booming job market is even more impressive considering that it was just last month when Forbes called the city 17th worst in the nation to look “for jobs this winter.” For those of you playing along at home, that means Hartford leapfrogged 23 ranking slots in just about 21 days.

But, Hartfordites should not despair. If the December numbers have you feeling blue, just cast your browser back to November. In that month, Forbes published another ranking for our little hamlet, and it was even better than January’s — in that month, Hartford was pronounced the fifth best city in the nation for finding a job.

So, did Hartford experience a massive recession — and subsequent miraculous recovery — in the past 30 days? Maybe a seasonal elf influx snatched up all the good jobs during the holiday season?

No, the inconsistency of Forbes’ top-10 lists is the result of the methodology used to derive the numbers. Though the two articles are packaged with virtually the same appearance — a handy and easily digestible “top-10 list” — the articles draw on two completely different sources for their information.

The first source, an employment research firm called Manpower, gathers its information via a telephone survey of 18,000 employers. That’s what the December rankings are based on. The other two rankings — more positive but still rather inconsistent — come from a job search engine called Juju.com.

Juju rankings are calculated using their own database of job openings as well as numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that publishes estimates of the number of unemployed workers in a given area. Juju takes its list of help-wanted ads and divides the total number of advertisements in its database by the unemployment figures from the feds. The result is a ratio of unemployed people to jobs, intended to give a general indication of the competitiveness of a city’s job market.

The articles put out by Forbes, though they note the different data sources, never mention the fact that the results can fluctuate so wildly. The most recent article also fails to point out that Forbes’ own coverage carried a diametrically opposed assessment just a few weeks ago.

If you’re confused by the disparity in the numbers — or the remarkably similar way they’re presented — Forbes Spokesperson Alexandra Talty says you shouldn’t be.

While Talty acknowledged that the three articles present vastly different results, she said she believed most readers are intelligent enough to recognize that jobs data is highly variable. They should understand that the assessment they’re reading could be wildly different with another set of data, Talty says. Even if that’s not mentioned in the article itself.

“Clearly if we used different data, we’d come up with a different conclusion, I think that’s kind of evident in a newspaper article,” says Talty. “We believe that the Forbes reader understands these kinds of statistics, and understands that if you look at one thing, you can come up with one answer, and if you look at a different thing, you could come up with a different answer.”

It isn’t necessary, Talty says, and “isn’t our responsibility,” to explain or acknowledge the discrepancy.

Furthermore, Talty says, it should be clear that the different rankings are actually reporting different aspects of the city’s economy. Just look at the headlines, she says.

Forbes’ current top-10 list, released on Jan. 6, features the headline “America’s Best and Worst Job Markets.” By contrast, the headline on December’s article reads “The Best Cities for Jobs this Winter.” The headlines make it clear, Talty says, that the figures are actually measuring two different aspects of the economy.

“It’s clear that they’re trying to find different things about the cities,” Talty says. “‘Best cities for jobs’ is different than ‘job markets.’”

The curious reader may ask, what, exactly, is the difference?

“I think it speaks for itself,” Talty says.

Hartford Chief Administrative Officer David Panagore says he pays attention to pronouncements like the one made by Forbes, and he thinks the magazine’s reputation is such that others take note of their opinions as well.

“Given the cut of the magazine, it does have a secondary effect in other markets ... people will say ‘if Forbes says so, then [Hartford] must be a good place,’” says the city’s top administrator.

Still, Panagore says, rankings from the media can be inconsistent, depending on their source, and so he and his staff never let the news go to their collective head.

“It doesn’t change our efforts, we know that no matter how well we’re doing or how badly the economy is fairing, we need to do more,” Panagore says.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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