“Re-Evaluating Labor Market Dynamics” at the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium

Is the labor market recovering well, facing serious challenges, or both? I recently joined about 100 distinguished economists and central bankers from around the country and world to discuss this and other important questions at the 2014 Economic Policy Symposium at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has hosted this symposium annually since 1978, and this may be the first time that a BLS Commissioner has attended. The topic of this year’s meeting was “Re-Evaluating Labor Market Dynamics.”

The program featured four papers that were presented and discussed, panel discussions on demographics and monetary policy, extensive question-and-answer sessions, and speeches from Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve System, and Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank.

Not surprisingly, BLS data were front and center during the conference. All the papers either used BLS data directly or investigated phenomena seen in BLS data by bringing other data to bear on the issues. Thus, the conference showcased how BLS serves as a trusted source of information essential for formulating good monetary policy and, more generally, for understanding labor market operations, conditions, and trends.

Janet Yellen noted in her opening remarks that the labor market is complex, so monetary policymakers must examine a range of indicators in order to assess the degree of slack in the labor market. I was very gratified to see that most of the expanded set of indicators mentioned by Yellen are produced by BLS.

Overall the discussions at Jackson Hole were stimulating, and I was very pleased to see so much BLS data being used to inform policy discussions.

You can vote for the BLS hurricane maps!

I recently wrote about the team of BLS staff members who created the new hurricane flood zone maps and tables on the BLS website. The team was selected as a finalist for the NextGov Bold Awards, which recognize public servants who conceive and implement bold ideas for using technology to improve the way government works and serves citizens. NextGov invites you to vote this week for your favorite among 20 Bold Award finalists for the People’s Choice Award. There are two ways you can vote. One is to make your selection on the NextGov website, which describes the excellent work of all the finalists. The other way to vote is through Twitter. Just tag @Nextgov, include the hashtag #BoldAwards, and name your favorite finalist.

I’ve read the descriptions of all the teams and projects that were selected as finalists, and they all deserve to be recognized for their innovation. I am especially proud of the work of the BLS team. They created more than 200 maps that show employment, wages, and establishment counts on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts by flood zone category. This is an important new resource that can aid in preparation and emergency response to storms and in understanding the economic effects of storms.

I urge you to take a few moments this week and see the innovative work that is being done by staff across the federal government—and vote for your favorite.

Seeking an expert to speak about the labor market and economy?

If you’ve ever visited the Bureau of Labor Statistics website or seen a news story about unemployment, inflation, wages, or some other economic topic, you know that BLS collects and publishes a huge volume of statistics to help inform businesses, workers, policymakers, households, and journalists about labor market and economic conditions in the United States. You also probably know that BLS has many publications that provide analytical insights about the mountains of statistics BLS produces. These publications include hundreds of news releases issued each year from the BLS national office and our regional offices. We also publish the Monthly Labor Review, Beyond the Numbers, our daily feature The Editor’s Desk, Spotlight on Statistics, and more.

Even if you are an experienced user of BLS data and publications, you may not know about another valuable service we provide: BLS can send an expert to speak at your conference, meeting, or classroom. If you are looking for a knowledgeable person to provide informative presentations about the U.S. labor market and economy, see our BLS Speakers page. Staff from our national office and our eight regional offices are happy to speak about such topics as the following examples:

  • How the government measures unemployment
  • Trends in labor force participation and long-term unemployment
  • How BLS calculates consumer, producer, and import and export prices
  • How many hours Americans work and how they spend their time outside of work
  • How local labor markets fared during and after the 2007–2009 recession
  • Trends in pay and benefits
  • Trends in workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths
  • What labor productivity can tell us about the U.S. economy

Our experts can cover many other topics besides these and even customize topics to meet your needs.

I frequently speak at events myself. For example, in mid-July, I had the pleasure of participating in a lively conference at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The topic of the conference, organized by the Institute for Research on Poverty, was “Building Human Capital and Economic Potential.” My talk described the ways in which BLS statistics inform us about the labor market, reviewed our resources for researchers, and told participants how they can help us.

It certainly was great to be back in Madison, and my BLS colleagues and I always enjoy the talks we give around the country. So if you need a speaker, we’re at your service!

Accolades for the new BLS hurricane flood zone maps and tables

This week I was delighted to learn that the team of BLS staff members who created the new hurricane flood zone maps and tables on the BLS website has been selected as a finalist for the Nextgov Bold Awards. Back in June I wrote about this important new resource, which shows employment, wages, and establishment counts on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts by flood zone category. Nextgov is an online publication that examines how technology and innovation are transforming the way government agencies serve citizens and perform vital functions. Nextgov is produced by Government Executive Media Group, which publishes Government Executive magazine, a monthly business magazine serving executives and managers in the federal government.

The BLS staff members who have been honored are Peter Smith, Monique Ortiz, Sara Stanley, and David Hiles, along with Sudarshan Jakhu, a staff member of one of our contractors.

The Nextgov Bold Awards recognize individuals who have conceived and implemented bold ideas for using technology to improve the way government works and serves citizens. The BLS team’s nomination was selected by the Nextgov editorial team from nominations sent in by agencies across the entire federal government. In addition to the Bold Award winners, Nextgov will have a People’s Choice Award that will go to the finalist who gets the most votes through an online poll that will be on Nextgov in August. The winners will be announced at the Nextgov Prime conference on September 8–9 in Washington, DC.

I am proud that BLS staff members have been recognized for their innovative work, and I congratulate them and the other finalists for this year’s Nextgov Bold Awards. The statistics BLS produces aren’t just numbers; they tell stories about real people. I view the new BLS hurricane maps and tables as especially important for aiding in preparation and emergency response to storms and for understanding the economic effects of storms after the fact. BLS will continue to highlight this resource throughout the hurricane season, as we did before Hurricane Arthur made landfall around the July 4 holiday just a few weeks ago.

Gaining insights from journalists to improve BLS products and services

Labor Secretary Tom Perez and I met recently with more than two dozen journalists to discuss ways in which BLS can improve the information we provide about the economy and how we provide it. I speak frequently with reporters, and so do many staff members at BLS. It’s part of our mission at BLS to be accessible and provide good customer service to help data users understand the data and analyses BLS produces. Typically when we speak to reporters, we’re providing them with information. The discussion Secretary Perez and I had with journalists was different in the sense that reporters were actually providing us with information. BLS has technical and user advisory committees with whom we meet on a regular basis to get advice about our products and procedures. BLS gains many valuable insights from those committees, but this was our first roundtable discussion with members of the media, and I’m really excited about it.

Members of the media are essential distributors of statistics from BLS and other federal statistical agencies. Although it is increasingly easy to get information about the labor market and economy directly from BLS through our website or Twitter feed, most people don’t get their information that way. More often they get it through a broadcast, web, or print news source. Journalists multiply the reach of BLS every time they cover a story that uses our statistics. I truly appreciate how journalists show their audiences the value of an objective data source like BLS. Journalists play a vital role in informing their audiences about subjects such as labor force participation, unemployment, or price changes, but journalists also can teach their audiences how to use data properly and what to trust along the way.

This group of journalists provided a number of really excellent suggestions about how BLS can improve the public’s understanding about the economy. Some of these suggestions might involve new surveys, additional questions in existing surveys, or tapping into data sources that don’t involve surveys. In many cases, however, the types of information these journalists suggested were things that BLS already provides, but we need to do a better job of increasing awareness about these data sources or making them easier to use.

Secretary Perez and I found this discussion to be extremely helpful, and I look forward to further discussions about how best to implement some of these ideas so that we can provide the public with data that are accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible.