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.

Helping young people learn about economic statistics—and have fun doing it!

This week we have guest bloggers, Jean Fox and Robin Kaplan of the BLS Office of Survey Methods Research. Jean and Robin are part of a team of staff members who have been working to improve our web resources for students and their teachers and parents.

BLS recently launched a new K-12 website to reach out to our youngest audience—students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The goal of the site is to help students learn about BLS concepts related to statistics and the economy and to help them make informed career decisions.

The new site has a mix of games, resources for students and teachers, and facts about BLS. Students can play games that teach them about BLS concepts, find careers that relate to their interests, and learn facts about the economy and jobs. Teachers can use the content on the site to bring BLS into the classroom, with hands-on activities that teach students about topics such as inflation, time use, and careers.

The development team wanted to get feedback about the site directly from kids. So when the Department of Labor (DOL) hosted a “Take your Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” we took advantage of the opportunity to see what the kids thought.

During the event, we held sessions in a DOL computer lab. Four different groups of 20 students each came through the lab, including students from elementary, middle, and high school. During each session, we gave a brief demonstration of the site, then let the kids try it out on their own. Most of the kids tried at least one of the games, and a number of them looked at career information. At the end of each session, we had a brief discussion about their experience and their recommendations for the site.

Overall, the students (and the chaperones!) liked the material on the site, but they had some great ideas for improving it. For example:

  • The students thought the games should have more of a “celebration” when they won.
  • Some students thought the games were too hard, others thought they were too easy. To address this, we should be sure to include different levels of difficulty for the games.
  • A couple of students mentioned that they might want to access the games and other content from a cell phone or a tablet, so we should make sure everything works on these devices.
  • Several students suggested that we should have more games; they were happy to hear we had more planned.

Overall, students who looked at the career information thought it was useful and interesting. They also had some suggestions, including:

  • We should make it easier to find information about occupations that were not listed on our page. Our Occupational Outlook Handbook contains information about hundreds of jobs, so the K-12 site should provide an easy way to reach it.
  • We should make sure that we include the more popular occupations on the K-12 career exploration page.

The team has already incorporated some of the suggestions. We are continuing to revise the site to add content and address additional suggestions from the kids. We are also working to get more feedback from students and teachers to improve the site for everyone. By creating content that appeals to kids, we hope to continue our mission of reaching out to the next generation of BLS customers.

If you have suggestions or comments, please contact the team at Kids@bls.gov.