Celebrating Our Customers

This week, BLS celebrates National Customer Service Week. We work every day to ensure you have a positive experience when you connect with us. Whether answering questions from the public, speaking at events, designing our website and releases, or helping businesses and households throughout the data collection process, BLS staff always put the customer first. It’s just the way we do business here.

Providing direct access to our experts is a cornerstone of the BLS culture of making our data accessible to all. This accessibility helps ensure that data users get the information they need quickly and easily. Each BLS program and regional office posts telephone numbers and email addresses that take you directly to the experts. I encourage you to take advantage of this wonderful service. Every year BLS economists and information specialists help thousands of data users. These information seekers, ranging from students to Congressional staff, are trying to find data that will help them make informed decisions.

Besides answering information calls and emails, BLS experts serve customers by speaking at events around the country. Speakers are available to discuss many topics about the U.S. labor market and economy. If you want to have a BLS speaker attend your event, please check out the BLS Speakers’ Page.

Another important way BLS staff help the public is through the data collection process. Every day, our economists and economic assistants collect data from businesses and households. We use these data to produce statistics about the national and regional labor markets. We always ask ourselves and our customers, the respondents, how we can improve efficiency. Whether we collect data by phone, using the Internet or other electronic options, or through personal visits, BLS staff mix high-tech methods with the high touch of building personal relationships. This ensures we receive the highest quality, most accurate data possible, with the lowest burden on respondents.

I thank our customers and my staff here at BLS, who work together to ensure we deliver the best possible data for the public to make decisions that shape the future.

A History and Culture of Efficiency at BLS

We’re always looking for ways to improve our programs and surveys at BLS to provide what I call “gold standard” data. Good data help the American public make better decisions.

BLS has a strong history and culture of looking for ways to provide our data in the most timely, accurate, relevant, and cost-effective manner. I’m incredibly proud of what BLS has achieved through innovation and resourcefulness. Our focus on improving our programs and methods means we can produce better data and provide better service for you.

I am excited the President’s 2016 budget request contains several items to help us meet the needs of our data users. One innovative proposal is to improve the timeliness and detail of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The new funding would allow us to release each month’s data much sooner, when we publish The Employment Situation. Data users then would be able to analyze net changes in jobs each month alongside information about job openings, hires, and separations for the same month. Having more information more quickly can give policymakers, employers, and workers an earlier warning about downturns or signal an improving economy.

The President’s 2016 budget also proposes funding to measure poverty more accurately. Other agencies use these measures to improve conditions for the poor. BLS would improve the Consumer Expenditure Survey to get more information about school breakfasts and lunches and programs that help pay for home heating and other household expenses. The improved data will help the U.S. Census Bureau develop alternative poverty measures.

At BLS, we work hard every day to improve efficiency. I want to highlight a few notable efficiencies we have made over the past few years.

  • In 2012 we began closing 36 Consumer Price Index data collection offices, allowing those data collectors to work from their homes using smart phones and tablets.
  • This year, we began applying a design change to the Consumer Expenditure Survey that will reduce the number of respondent interviews from five to four; we will use the savings from that change to support a small-scale redesign of the survey.
  • We have reduced mailing costs by redesigning survey mailings and increasing the use of our Internet Data Collection Facility.

Of course, saving money by improving efficiency cannot fund all the work we do, but it can make a big difference.

In sum, we are constantly working to improve the way we do business. We strive to make our work as efficient, relevant, timely, and cost-effective as possible, to deliver “gold standard” data to our customers.

Reducing Lacerations in California with ‘Cutting Edge’ Data

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the U.S. Department of Labor blog.

As a medical librarian for Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville, California, Rachel Stark spends her days supporting patient care and patient-centered research. And like any librarian, when a call for information comes in, Rachel just needs a good source. Enter our Bureau of Labor Statistics.


A nurse practitioner in Rachel’s hospital approached her recently to look into high rates of traumatic skin injuries being treated at her hospital. She wanted to understand why the Vallejo/Vacaville area seemed to have higher injury rates than other areas that Kaiser Permanente serves. Rachel knew just where to turn, having learned about the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ wealth of health data during a U.S. Census Bureau presentation she had attended at her previous job as a librarian at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

In this case, the Bureau was able to provide two full years of data that looked at different types of skin injuries, such as punctures and cuts, and the age of the people who had been injured. BLS officials were very responsive and helpful, Rachel said, and the nurse was thrilled to get this information.

The nurse will soon present her findings to an internal advisory group at the hospital, along with data from other sources. After the group has had a chance to analyze her presentation, Rachel said the hospital may choose to take action by creating a protocol to help deal with some of the more common traumatic skin injuries, developing a proposal to create a public campaign to help reduce traumatic skin injuries, or designing a tracking method to help gather data on what specific kinds of skin injuries being treated at these locations.

And while BLS may not have been the only source of information that ultimately leads to fewer injuries and better medical treatment, a certain medical librarian has a new contact in her virtual Rolodex to call on when doctors and nurses approach her to help make the case for more effective care for their patients.

“I sing your praises to all the medical librarians I know,” Rachel says.

You can find more data on health and safety in U.S. workplaces on the BLS website.

Experimental disease-based price indexes now available

I am extremely pleased to announce that BLS has released a new data product, experimental disease-based price indexes.

These indexes will give data users better ongoing information about the evolution of the nation’s healthcare system. Because healthcare is such a large part of our economy, it is incredibly important we produce timely, accurate, and reliable medical statistics.

Currently, all federal statistical agencies report healthcare data by what’s called the “medical goods and services categories.” However, this approach doesn’t tell us one important thing: Which diseases have the greatest effect on healthcare spending over time?

After identifying the diseases that affect spending the most, we can drill down to learn the reasons for their growth. With disease-based price indexes, we can break down the growth into categories, such as the parts that come from inflation, population growth, growth in disease prevalence, and real per capita output growth. We can’t do any of this with our traditional medical goods and services categories, such as physician services, pharmaceuticals, and hospitals.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis now reports spending by disease in their national healthcare satellite accounts, so we also need disease-based price indexes to adjust for inflation. Disease-based price indexes measure healthcare inflation differently and capture the effects of innovations that our traditional medical goods and services price indexes do not. For example, better surgical procedures have enabled doctors to perform many types of surgery using a less expensive outpatient setting, instead of an expensive inpatient hospital. The disease-based price indexes allow us to measure the effect of this shift.

I am incredibly proud of the team who produced these experimental disease-based price indexes. These indexes fulfill our BLS mission to continuously improve our products and provide timely, accurate, and relevant data to our users. These indexes also come at no additional cost because of the team’s innovative use of existing data, such as the freely available Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. We at BLS strive every day to provide the best value for your taxpayer dollars, and this is a shining example of that effort!

We also could not provide gold-standard data such as these indexes without the help of our survey respondents. I deeply appreciate all the medical providers who voluntarily participate in our survey. Their cooperation is essential for generating our medical price indexes and ensures our healthcare data are accurate.

Disease-based price indexes are still in their infancy, and we have much to learn, including the best way to incorporate them into overall price indexes. That’s why we describe them as experimental. We hope data users will find them helpful. We invite you to share your thoughts and ideas to help us continue to develop these indexes. And, as Commissioner, I hope you can see why I am so proud of this key contribution BLS has made to ensuring better medical statistics now and in the future.

Why This Counts: New data on employee benefits in 2015

Be honest now. What do you do with all those booklets you get that describe your employee benefits in detail? I suspect most of us add them to our “reading pile,” along with the latest magazines or inserts from the electric bill. Of course, you may no longer do this physically, since these days a lot of information about employee benefits comes to us electronically, perhaps on our employer’s internal website. Either way, the result is largely the same—you probably add the link to your online viewing pile with the latest cat-playing-piano video. Here at BLS, we actually read those documents and websites on employee benefits for you and use them to help everyone understand the benefits coverage of American workers.

As a result, last week BLS released data on the percentage of workers covered by employee benefits in 2015. This report is part of an annual series about benefits. The newest data show that 50 percent of private industry workers participated in a medical care benefit plan through their work, 49 percent had a retirement plan, and 61 percent had paid sick leave available.


A strength of these data is the detail about the workplaces that provide benefits and the workers who receive them. For example, paid sick leave benefits vary based on the number of workers at the employer’s location: 80 percent of private industry workers had paid sick leave in the largest establishments (500 workers or more), while 49 percent had paid sick leave in the smallest establishments (fewer than 50 workers). Looking at retirement benefits, 12 percent of private industry workers in the group with the lowest 10 percent of wages ($9.00 or less per hour) participated in a retirement plan through their employer. That compares with 78 percent of workers in the group with the highest 10 percent of wages ($43.27 or more per hour).

A recent edition of The Economics Daily features visualizations about how retirement and medical care benefits vary by occupation.

The new report also shows how the cost of medical care benefits is divided between employee and employer. This year, employees in private industry paid, on average, 22 percent of the cost for single coverage and 32 percent of the cost for family coverage; employers picked up the remaining cost. Later this year, more detail will be available on the cost that employees and employers paid for these benefits.

Back to those plan booklets. At BLS, we cull through the details to report on plan features and the value of benefits. Earlier this year BLS released those details for 2014 health and retirement plans in private industry. Among the findings are that one in three workers covered by a medical care plan was in a high-deductible plan, with a median individual deductible of $2,000 per year. Among 401(k) plans, 41 percent of participants were in plans that automatically enroll new employees into the plan, often with a default contribution of 3 percent of earnings. Plan booklets also showed that 401(k) plans commonly match 50 percent of the first 6 percent of earnings that workers contribute.

Employee benefits are a key part of compensation—just over 30 percent, on average. Benefits protect employees and families in the face of medical, financial, and other concerns. So, even though reading the details of those plans may not be high on your to-do list, rest assured that BLS is keeping on top of these issues for you and reporting the details throughout the year.