Analysis of job growth vs. degrees granted

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#1
We're all familiar with the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers on job growth in the planning field. US News bases their reports on these numbers, as well as nearly all other sources on job prospects. In other words, this is the strongest, most authoritative information we have on how many jobs there might be for planners in the future.

A while ago, after doing some brief research on how these numbers are derived, I posted about how these statistics are basically a combination of historic growth with vague, anonymous tweaks by BLS economists, most likely just adjustments based on overall economic downturn. Most of the BLS data is qualitative, as they talk about how more people are moving to cities, and therefore there will be an increased need for planners, etc. Rather than debate these assumptions, this post assumes that the BLS data is relatively correct in predicting future planning employment.

Now that I have that out of the way, I'll get into the meat of the matter: The BLS data, and therefore 99% of the data on future planning employment, does not give any idea of how competitive those jobs will be to obtain. What does it matter if there will be 6,500 more planning jobs in 2020 if there are tens of thousands of hopeful planners trying to get them? Well, based on my calculations, with data derived from the 2011 Guide to Undergraduate and Graduate Education in Urban and Regional Planning (produced by The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning), there may be 25,308 more planner graduates by 2020.

That's 6,500 more jobs for 25,308 people, or about 1 job for every 4 graduates. This is the cumulative total of 9 graduating classes from 2011 to 2020.

That's the basic result of my analysis. Simple, but the implications, I believe, are tremendous. There are many sources that give false information on the demand for planners. (Example: http://www.acsp.org/education_guide/careers) And because demand doesn't mean anything unless you factor in supply. As shown here, the supply far outweighs any purported demand for planners.

So who, among those who should be doing so, are giving an accurate picture of this? The planning programs and their professors aren't. Their jobs depend on your tuition money. What about APA? Their jobs depend on you trusting that their career development offerings will pay off. What about the ACSP? Read page 8 of this report: http://www.acsp.org/sites/default/files/2011_ACSP_Career_Guide_PROOF%231.pdf. If you still haven't got the picture, every institution who has the responsibility to disclose this information is misleading you. Why?



Because they all want your money.



The following explains how I got those numbers: Basically, I added all of the degrees granted from all of the undergraduate and graduate programs listed in the above publication. This does not count any PhD programs, so this assumes PhDs will not be competing with undergrads and grads for the estimated 6,500 more jobs, even though the BLS demand estimate includes academic jobs. It also does not count any majors that were strictly "Urban Affairs" or "Historic Preservation." Also, while listed in my spreadsheet, I do not count non-US planning schools, assuming that graduates from McGill and Toronto and UBC only compete for Canadian positions. In addition, this does not include any geography-only or community development-only programs, which produce considerable numbers of people who compete for planning jobs. Finally, I cannot include the number of graduates where schools do not report it. There are at least 6 cases where this is so. Therefore, given these facts, 25,308 more planning graduates is a reasonably conservative number.

However, there are a number of assumptions that I'm making, and they are as follows:

Assumption 1. That all those who receive a planning degree (whether undergrad or grad) join the workforce and start competing for planning jobs. Based on anecdotal evidence, I think most look for planning work, for some length of time. Some of course go off on parent-paid trips abroad, go to grad school for something completely different, get non-planning jobs, or go retrain for something else. Many, of course, show up at Cyburbia forums asking about how to get a planning job. ;)

Assumption 2. That there is no double counting between people who get an undergrad planning degree and then follow up with a graduate planning degree. Given that most of the data is from a single school graduating season, I think the number of double-counts is very minimal. Also, even if you eliminate all undergrads, there would still be 17,100 new planners by 2020.

Assumption 3. Where data for degrees granted spans multiple graduating seasons, an average over those years represents future graduating numbers. If you look at my spreadsheet, the number of these cases is in the minority, so I don't think this is a significant source of skewing. But it is possible, of course.

Assumption 4. That the data from this publication is accurate.

If anyone else has any thoughts about how relevant this data is, I'd like to hear them. I think this is a very important aspect of what our future will continue to look like, and what planner-prospects need to know about before they jump into a program.

Here is my spreadsheet in PDF: http://www.pdf-archive.com/2012/06/21/planning-degrees-granted/
If anyone want the Excel spreadsheet, let me know and I can email it.
 
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Huck

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#2
It looks like you're only including people who went through PAB Programs. You've left out a huge crop of people who have degrees in Planning but not from PAB schools.

But the main problem I see with this analysis is that your entire premise is based on the assumption that people come to "Planning" only via planning degrees. What about Architects, Landscape Architects, Civil Engineers, Environmental Scientists, people who have no degrees, etc. So without crunching any numbers I'm going to say that there's about 6,500 jobs for what's probably closer to 150,000 people. Probably more. As the job market gets tighter more people have been stepping outside of their degree field and trying to find anything that is remotely close.

The good news is I don't think the BLS numbers account for attrition. People leave jobs often. Often, people even leave their job field. Are the BLS numbers for NEWLY created positions? If so, that changes everything.
 
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#3
It looks like you're only including people who went through PAB Programs. You've left out a huge crop of people who have degrees in Planning but not from PAB schools.

But the main problem I see with this analysis is that your entire premise is based on the assumption that people come to "Planning" only via planning degrees. What about Architects, Landscape Architects, Civil Engineers, Environmental Scientists, people who have no degrees, etc. So without crunching any numbers I'm going to say that there's about 6,500 jobs for what's probably closer to 150,000 people. Probably more. As the job market gets tighter more people have been stepping outside of their degree field and trying to find anything that is remotely close.

The good news is I don't think the BLS numbers account for attrition. People leave jobs often. Often, people even leave their job field. Are the BLS numbers for NEWLY created positions? If so, that changes everything.
The guide includes both PAB and non-PAB programs (e.g., CSU Northridge). With that said, I wanted to present a conservative estimate for my argument. I, too, think there are many more people applying for planning jobs, but there's really no way to get an accurate picture of how many that may be.

Concerning the BLS, the 6,500 jobs are NEWLY created positions added to the "existing" 40,300 jobs for a total of 46,800 by 2020. Source: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Urban-and-regional-planners.htm
 

Blide

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#4
Admittedly a lot of people with planning degrees don't move directly into the planning field but rather something related to it. I'm not sure those positions would fall under BLS's definition of urban planning jobs either. Then there should be a significant number of planners retiring or leaving the field before 2020 which will obviously open up positions for new graduates.

With that said, I don't think things are quite as bleak as your numbers suggest. Planning is kind of a jack-of-all-trades degree where people can segway into any number of careers. People did that before the recession and will continue to do so now. Sure, another degree choice may make things easier but planning still isn't a "bad" degree choice.
 

Reefe

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#5
Agree with chocolatechip about the "Because they want your money" part. Every institution out there that is trying to sell you membership or enroll you in a program will surely paint a rosy picture about how great this industry is and what advantages you will gain to set you apart from the rest etc. etc.

And as the others have said, lots of people flow into planning jobs with degrees in other related areas (Geography, Architecture, Economics etc.), just as people with planning degrees can surely branch out into other occupations. I just don't know which ones myself, as I am just starting to look around myself for those opportunities. I've read some of the other threads here on that topic, but haven't really got a good grasp on any of the options.

I think one of the toughest obstacles for finding employment in planning is that governments, especially local governments, aren't going to be hiring as many as before and that's who employs the majority of planners. The outcry against public employees, slashing of government budgets and permanent reduction of staffing levels have all led to very cautious hiring. We're being told that "do more with less" is the new reality we need to face and every position we want to fill is scrutinized to the very higest levels. It's not impossible, there are still positions around the country, just fewer and far between perhaps. I'm hopeful that this situation will adjust, 'new reality' or otherwise, and we'll settle into a more moderate hiring pace in due time.
 
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#6
Mods: Can you move this thread to the Student Forum? I think it's more appropriate for those who are considering planning, than for those of us who have already chosen. Thanks!
 
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#7
Another aspect of this: I believe my analysis shows that, regardless of how the downturn in construction is impacting our profession, there will not be enough jobs for planners over the long term.

I hear a lot of people on here express how it's just the economy, just the downturn in construction that's erased so many jobs, and once that picks up, things will get back to normal. I think this provides very strong evidence against that, because even with better than average growth expected for planners, there are too many planners being produced by universities. People are lining up for planning degrees in order to line up for what few planning jobs there are, and will be, through 2020. Every planning student needs to be aware of these numbers. If they still choose to follow planning, that's their decision. But their decision should be based on the facts. Most architecture students are well aware that there are way more architect hopefuls than can be accommodated, even in a good economy. Planning students need to have the same mindset. I think many students would be surprised by just how limited the opportunities are over the long term.

As far as attrition being a source of job openings among existing positions... we all know how that goes. Attrition is a primary crutch of public fund cut-backs. Sure there is attrition, but they often go unfilled, and may be permanently so, given the state of local government budgets.
 
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jhenry

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#8
I find this topic very interesting and appreciate how I can count on cyburbia to always show me the dark side of planning too. Having not done the math myself I don't dispute your numbers but I found 25,308 planning over 9 years to be very suprising. This is probably because the state I live in has a single planning program that only graduates about 7-9 students per year and borders abouther state (Arkansas) that doesn't have one at all. I see what your saying about how 25,308 jobs puts a heavy damper on the 6,500 in growth, but I am curius if you have looked at retirement/career exit figures from your mentioned existing 40,300 jobs. So for 25,308 new grads to fill 46,800 positions 21,492 of the previous positions would have to be vacated. 21,492 is 53.3% of the positions over nine years or 6% per year. Given the high proportion of baby boomers in the field that are likely to retire and the amount of people who choose to leave the field that seems possible, though maybe not probable.
I also wonder if in their quests to keep costs down, states and municiplaities will continue to try to buyout or layoff older workers in favor of younger cheaper new grads. While I wouldn't argue that this would benefit the organizations or communities I wonder if it will have an affect on new grads unemployment.
I would like to hear your thoughts?
Also what is your view on how regional the unemployment problem has been? Anecdotally, It doesn't seem that employment prosopects are near as dim in the South-central region.
 
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#9
I find this topic very interesting and appreciate how I can count on cyburbia to always show me the dark side of planning too. Having not done the math myself I don't dispute your numbers but I found 25,308 planning over 9 years to be very suprising. This is probably because the state I live in has a single planning program that only graduates about 7-9 students per year and borders abouther state (Arkansas) that doesn't have one at all. I see what your saying about how 25,308 jobs puts a heavy damper on the 6,500 in growth, but I am curius if you have looked at retirement/career exit figures from your mentioned existing 40,300 jobs. So for 25,308 new grads to fill 46,800 positions 21,492 of the previous positions would have to be vacated. 21,492 is 53.3% of the positions over nine years or 6% per year. Given the high proportion of baby boomers in the field that are likely to retire and the amount of people who choose to leave the field that seems possible, though maybe not probable.
I also wonder if in their quests to keep costs down, states and municiplaities will continue to try to buyout or layoff older workers in favor of younger cheaper new grads. While I wouldn't argue that this would benefit the organizations or communities I wonder if it will have an affect on new grads unemployment.
I would like to hear your thoughts?
Also what is your view on how regional the unemployment problem has been? Anecdotally, It doesn't seem that employment prosopects are near as dim in the South-central region.
In NJ only Rutgers has a planning program, and only at the New Brunswick campus. Given what I've heard about the from others in the program it'll be graduating over 100 planning students a year for the forseeable future.
 

Blide

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#10
NJ and Rutgers are an unusual case for several reasons so I don't necessarily think what you see there translates to other states with only one school.

I have to agree that things generally aren't as dire if the states' lone planning program puts out a modest number of graduates and the state is well saturated with alum. I graduated from a program like that and found graduates have a distinct advantage in getting jobs in state, even if programs in surrounding states are generally considered "better." The local school is a known commodity and most of the people hiring are either alum themselves or have hired some.
 
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#11
How does the BLS find "planners"? We can be labeled as public administrators, engineers, architects, non-profit workers, yada, yada.
 
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#12
How does the BLS find "planners"? We can be labeled as public administrators, engineers, architects, non-profit workers, yada, yada.
If you are working as an architect, engineer, or yada yada, your "label" would then change to that profession and you'd be represented by different categories. In other words, if you're working as an engineer, you're not a planner. :p
 
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#13
I find this topic very interesting and appreciate how I can count on cyburbia to always show me the dark side of planning too. Having not done the math myself I don't dispute your numbers but I found 25,308 planning over 9 years to be very suprising. This is probably because the state I live in has a single planning program that only graduates about 7-9 students per year and borders abouther state (Arkansas) that doesn't have one at all. I see what your saying about how 25,308 jobs puts a heavy damper on the 6,500 in growth, but I am curius if you have looked at retirement/career exit figures from your mentioned existing 40,300 jobs. So for 25,308 new grads to fill 46,800 positions 21,492 of the previous positions would have to be vacated. 21,492 is 53.3% of the positions over nine years or 6% per year. Given the high proportion of baby boomers in the field that are likely to retire and the amount of people who choose to leave the field that seems possible, though maybe not probable.
I also wonder if in their quests to keep costs down, states and municiplaities will continue to try to buyout or layoff older workers in favor of younger cheaper new grads. While I wouldn't argue that this would benefit the organizations or communities I wonder if it will have an affect on new grads unemployment.
I would like to hear your thoughts?
Also what is your view on how regional the unemployment problem has been? Anecdotally, It doesn't seem that employment prosopects are near as dim in the South-central region.
1. I found 25,308 new planner-hopefuls to be surprising, also. Very surprising, in fact. And ethically questionable on the part of the educators producing them.

2. The BLS estimates factor in attrition, and a heavy contributor to attrition for them is the filtering out of the baby-boom generation. It's actually pretty well incorporated statistically into their estimates, based on previous but unrelated in-depth research I have done on the DOL.

3. On buyouts, my guess is that it's pretty rare. That kind of thing doesn't look too well in the public eye ("public workers getting X amount of dollars to go home"), and I think the ridiculous pension problems are concentrated more at the state level than the municipal level.

4. South-central being... Texas? I wouldn't know. There is strong job sectors there, but doubtful they have a significant impact on more planner jobs.
 

Cardinal

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#14
1. I found 25,308 new planner-hopefuls to be surprising, also. Very surprising, in fact. And ethically questionable on the part of the educators producing them...
I find this interesting. Is it unethical to educate people for a degree in philosophy? After all, how many jobs for philosophers do you see listed. Is education only job training or is it something more? If we wanted to assure everyone studying (for any subject) a job, maybe we should just scrap the college system and create an apprentice program. In that way we can control the number of people who get to be planners, or accountants, or forest rangers, etc. Or maybe we can recognize that the purpose of college is education, and that studying for a particular field is not a guarantee of a job in that field. New graduates will have to compete with other graduates and people from other fields who want to pursue that profession and those already employed in that profession.
 
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#15
I find this interesting. Is it unethical to educate people for a degree in philosophy? After all, how many jobs for philosophers do you see listed. Is education only job training or is it something more? If we wanted to assure everyone studying (for any subject) a job, maybe we should just scrap the college system and create an apprentice program. In that way we can control the number of people who get to be planners, or accountants, or forest rangers, etc. Or maybe we can recognize that the purpose of college is education, and that studying for a particular field is not a guarantee of a job in that field. New graduates will have to compete with other graduates and people from other fields who want to pursue that profession and those already employed in that profession.
Stop your reductio ad absurdum. I never meant to say people shouldn't educate and produce planners. My contention is that if more students were aware of this situation, they wouldn't choose planning in the first place. Educators bear some of the responsibility to inform students of the job reality. Universities love to tout strong employment prospects when it favors them, but avoid negative job prospect numbers like the plague. That's what a business does. Right now, universities are still saying planning is a good career to get into based on US News, etc. My entire point is that these numbers don't add up to a rosy picture, not now, not in ten years.

There is much more pressure these days on educators informing students that there really is no market for the degrees they are spending money for, and I would simply like planning schools to join in and do the RESPONSIBLE thing, and that is to inform students of the facts and not pretend that students are attending college merely to expand their mind. Implying that that is the case is disingenuous and insulting to those who work their way through school.

How long has it been since you were in school? The cost of higher education has inflated exponentially in the past 20 years, and no one should pretend that college and employment are not meant to be connected.
 

Hink

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#16
My contention is that if more students were aware of this situation, they wouldn't choose planning in the first place.
Which is funny, because there are still lots of people who come on here, get told they are stupid for following their dreams, and then STILL go and get a degree in planning. I think your contention is well known, and yet is not proven true - at least on Cyburbia.

Educators bear some of the responsibility to inform students of the job reality. Universities love to tout strong employment prospects when it favors them, but avoid negative job prospect numbers like the plague. That's what a business does. Right now, universities are still saying planning is a good career to get into based on US News, etc. My entire point is that these numbers don't add up to a rosy picture, not now, not in ten years.
I agree that educators need to be more honest in their assessment of the planning profession (some of it is that they have not be in the trenches in so long they do not get planning), but they don't pretend to know the outlook in 10 years either. Most people are not doom and gloom about our profession in the future (yes, I know you think we are going to be irrelevant, and the sky is falling), especially not in 10 years once the baby boomers are mostly gone.
 
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#17
Which is funny, because there are still lots of people who come on here, get told they are stupid for following their dreams, and then STILL go and get a degree in planning. I think your contention is well known, and yet is not proven true - at least on Cyburbia.
The choice is theirs. But they should have all the facts.


I agree that educators need to be more honest in their assessment of the planning profession (some of it is that they have not be in the trenches in so long they do not get planning), but they don't pretend to know the outlook in 10 years either. Most people are not doom and gloom about our profession in the future (yes, I know you think we are going to be irrelevant, and the sky is falling), especially not in 10 years once the baby boomers are mostly gone.
All I'm doing here is matching the number of planners produced with the number of jobs estimated to be added in ten years. And saying that students should know this. That's it. Yet, people like you continue to uphold their anecdotal observations and emotions above the numbers. If the numbers said something different, that there'd be 30,000 more jobs and schools were only producing 5,000 new planners, you'd be all over it. You'd sing it from the rooftops. Instead, you essentially slander the messenger, just because you think I have some vendetta against the planning profession. Well, I don't. I just choose to be an advocate for the students, instead of an advocate for my own professional image.

Of course, I know it'd become more than just about the numbers. My character and motives would be called into question no matter how objective I tried to be. If you actually read my initial post in its entirety, I disclosed all the things I could think of at the time that would bring my numbers into question. Not one person has requested to see my spreadsheet, or to do the analysis themselves. Why? Because I don't think any one really gives a shit. And yet, this is the strongest evidence I've ever seen against the claims of long-term job demand for planners. Isn't that relevant? If not for you, for students? Do you believe in giving students this information? Why do you feel the need to make it personal?
 
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Blide

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#18
What you described is happening in a lot of professions. Currently things are so up in the air that making any career choice in school is a huge gamble. A "safe" degree might just be another bubble while something unconventional might just be the next big thing. With things how they are now, it's not such a terrible idea sticking to your interests rather than trying to pick a winner.

I honestly don't envy anyone trying figure out what degree to pursue now. Even looking back, I'm not sure I'd make any different choices with what I know now. Things are just awful out there and I don't really see anything that's bucking the trend.
 

Hink

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#19
Isn't that relevant? If not for you, for students? Do you believe in giving students this information?
You are correct that some numbers show an outcome. I do not discount this. I just think that you are misleading people by excluding a fair bit of information in your assessment. But you are correct, I won't argue what the hard numbers show.

Why do you feel the need to make it personal?
It is only personal insomuch as the fact that you continually repeat your perspective. I am not attacking you, just the repeated posts you make. Your character isn't really something that I thought we were discussing? Am I misreading something?
 

dw914er

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#20
Stop your reductio ad absurdum. I never meant to say people shouldn't educate and produce planners. My contention is that if more students were aware of this situation, they wouldn't choose planning in the first place. Educators bear some of the responsibility to inform students of the job reality. Universities love to tout strong employment prospects when it favors them, but avoid negative job prospect numbers like the plague. That's what a business does. Right now, universities are still saying planning is a good career to get into based on US News, etc. My entire point is that these numbers don't add up to a rosy picture, not now, not in ten years.
It was likely a very different scenario when you were in school, but I do remember my professors warning us of the difficult market ahead of us. Sure, they didn't sit in front of class and say "you're all screwed," but they give us some warning. Their job as educators is to prepare you for real life, and a career. I think the skills I learned have helped me to be where I am at, and will help me find full time work. The majority of my peers, despite their initial excitement towards the career, have left for their (perceived) greener pastures, and that's fine. The reality is that alot of people end up in a different career compared to when they started, regardless of the economic climate. Bad times just makes for a more convenient excuse to move on.
 
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