BLS Microdata Now More Easily Accessible to Researchers across the Country

I am pleased to announce that BLS is now part of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center Network.

Researchers at universities, nonprofits, and government agencies can now go to 24 secure research data centers across the United States to analyze microdata from our National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and our Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Before, researchers had to visit our headquarters in Washington, D.C., to use these data.Image of researchers examining data.

Making our underlying data more accessible for researchers from coast to coast is a huge step forward, and I hope it will lead to a surge in research using BLS data. I believe that having more researchers use BLS data not only will showcase new uses of the data but improve our products by encouraging researchers from BLS and other organizations to collaborate. It also supports transparency because external researchers can analyze inputs to our published statistics.

Another key benefit to having BLS data alongside datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics is that researchers can combine data from two or more agencies. Using multiple datasets allows researchers to match data to answer new questions with no more burden on our respondents. Put simply, more data = better research = better decisions that rely on research.

Researchers are enthusiastic about adding BLS data to the research data center network.

“We at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta are excited that more BLS microdata are available to researchers. Policy questions are usually complicated. Matched data from different sources can give researchers a much better understanding of economic relationships. That will help us provide more informed policy advice,” said John Robertson, senior policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Over the next year, we will add more BLS data to the research data centers based on user demand.

Researchers can also still visit us at our D.C. headquarters to access our full suite of microdata. To learn more and to apply, see our BLS Restricted Data Access page.

The Value and Influence of Labor Statistics in the 21st Century

What’s in the “DNA” of BLS—what were we born with? Not so long ago, as I prepared to become BLS Commissioner, I read the First 100 Years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first chapter describes how BLS was created (in 1884) during a time of severe economic upheaval and industrial unrest. Policymakers of the time realized that a key barrier to peace and shared prosperity was the lack of trustworthy information about the economy. What has struck me ever since is how we can trace some of the distinguishing features of today’s modern BLS directly back to those first days, to the vision of one of our founders. This post links that past to the BLS of today.

Carroll D. Wright, first BLS Commissioner

Commissioner Carroll D. Wright

In 1893, sometime after becoming the first Commissioner of Labor, Carroll D. Wright set forth a mission for the agency. He was a pioneer in the search for truth and a better understanding of labor statistics by the public. In his Value and Influence of Labor Statistics (later published in the 54th Bulletin of the Bureau of Labor), he described our mission as collecting “information upon the subject of labor in the United States, its relation to capital, the hours of labor, and the earnings of laboring men and women, and the means of promoting their material, social, intellectual, and moral prosperity.”

Today, our mission is much the same as it was then. Commissioner Wright established a modern statistical agency long before the Internet made it possible for anyone to access our data and read our publications on demand. These days we say that our mission is “to collect, analyze, and disseminate essential economic information to support public and private decision-making.” While the wording has evolved with the times, the core meaning remains the same. Furthermore, in support of our mission for the past 132 years, BLS has practiced what Commissioner Wright termed “the fearless publication of the facts without regard to the influence those facts may have upon any party’s position or any partisan’s views.”

Wright developed much of the vision and practices that he instilled here while working for the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor from 1873 to 1878. There he launched several studies to provide the people of Massachusetts with accurate labor market data. One of the largest studies was to find out the true unemployment level in Massachusetts. At the time, many people believed there were 200,000–300,000 people unemployed in the state and 3,000,000 unemployed in the entire country. Alarmists spread word through newspapers, speeches in Congress, and political resolutions until these figures were widely believed as fact, despite no previous attempt to measure unemployment. Wright’s staff canvassed the state twice to discover if the rumored number was accurate. The Bureau of Statistics of Labor of Massachusetts determined the true number of unemployed in the state was 28,508 skilled and unskilled laborers in June 1878; by November there were fewer than 23,000 unemployed, while the national number could not have been more than 460,000 unemployed. Wright explained that “The figures published by the report were used all over the country, and completely reversed the popular belief relative to the vast number of the alleged unemployed in the country.”

Today, you can see a parallel between Wright’s efforts to learn and classify the number of unemployed workers in Massachusetts and how BLS has expanded its offering to include six alternative measures of unused or underused labor. We call these measures U-1 through U-6. BLS not only calculates these alternative measures nationally, but also for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two large metro areas. This ensures that the American public, researchers, and policymakers have a wide range of data to understand the health of the labor market and make important decisions.

Also similar is our enduring focus on specific populations in the workforce. Under Wright’s leadership, state Bureaus of Labor investigated the use of child labor and uncovered the “evils it entailed upon the community.” The Bureaus published the number of young children (those under 10 years old) who worked in factories and workshops. Because of these studies, the numbers declined significantly. Time and again, Wright sought out the facts and ensured the American people had the information they needed to make decisions. Wright said, “It is only through rigid, impartial, and fearless investigations that any community can know itself in many directions.”

Today, we continue to seek new and better measures about particular groups in our economy and society. For example, in recent years BLS expanded the scope of the Current Population Survey to include six new questions to identify people with disabilities. These data provide insight into the labor market challenges of people with disabilities. The data aid individuals, nonprofit organizations, employers, and policymakers in making decisions affecting the lives of Americans with disabilities. Our monthly Employment Situation report now includes information about the employment status and labor force participation of the more than 30 million Americans age 16 and older living with a disability.

Our “DNA,” that is, our mission, our vision, and our understanding of the value of the statistics we produce, is as important today as it was in 1884. We continue our determined work to impartially collect, analyze, and publish essential economic information to support private and public decision-making. Today BLS provides a wide variety of information that benefits all Americans. I am certain that Commissioner Wright would be pleased that our reports, charts, and data are far more accessible than he ever could have imagined. Whether you’re exploring a new occupation, starting a business, looking for the change in consumer and producer prices, identifying average wages by occupation, or learning how Americans spend their time, there’s a stat for that. For all these situations and many more, BLS helps Americans make smart decisions in their lives. The cost of providing this valuable information may come out to less than $2 per person each year, but its positive impact remains priceless.

A Brief Labor Market Update for Labor Day 2016

A diverse group of people in a variety of occupationsIn 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September. This national holiday pays tribute to American workers. A decade before Labor Day existed—since the creation of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1884—we began reporting on how the labor market is faring. So, what’s up as we reach Labor Day 2016?

  • Our monthly payroll survey shows that employment continues to expand—now nearly 6.2 million jobs above the January 2008 peak.
  • Although job growth continues, it has been slower in 2016 than in the last couple of years. The average monthly job gain in 2016 has been 182,000, compared with 229,000 in 2015 and 251,000 in 2014.
  • At 4.9 percent in August, the unemployment rate has changed little since August 2015. During late 2006 and early 2007, the unemployment rate was at its recent low, 4.4 percent. In October 2009, the rate reached 10.0 percent.
  • The number of long-term unemployed people (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 2.0 million in August. That was 26.1 percent of the total unemployed, down from the recent peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010, but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and early 2007.
  • July unemployment rates were uneven among the states. South Dakota (2.8 percent) and New Hampshire (2.9 percent) had the lowest rates, while Alaska (6.7 percent) and Nevada (6.5 percent) had the highest.
  • Among major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 15.7 percent in August, while the rates were 4.5 percent for both adult women and adult men. The August unemployment rate for African Americans was 8.1 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.4 percent for Whites, and 4.2 percent for Asians.
  • The labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or seeking work—has been trending down since the early 2000s and even more rapidly since 2008. The rate was 62.8 percent in August 2016, down from rates around 66 percent that prevailed from late 2003 to 2008.
  • Real (adjusted for inflation) average hourly earnings for all employees increased 1.7 percent from July 2015 to July 2016. Real earnings have finally started to grow in 2015 and 2016, after several years of little change.
  • Among workers in private industry, 64 percent had access to paid sick leave in March 2016, and 76 percent had access to paid vacations.
  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses decreased at a 0.6-percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2016. Although labor productivity has fallen recently, it has grown by 330 percent since 1947.
  • There were 4,821 workers in the United States who died from an injury suffered at work in 2014. That was the highest annual total since 2008 but still below the numbers of workplace deaths in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses has declined over the past several decades in the private sector. The rate in 2014 was 3.2 cases per 100 full-time workers, down from 9.2 cases per 100 full-time workers in 1976.
  • From 2014 to 2024, 7 of the 10 occupations with the fastest projected growth are related to healthcare, but there will be opportunities in a variety of fields.

The U.S. economy is large, complex, and evolving. So, BLS works hard to provide good information to help Americans make better informed decisions. We’ve been doing this for over 130 years and plan to keep serving America’s information needs for many decades to come!

Prestigious Award for BLS and U.S. Census Bureau Researchers

There are so many things I love about being Commissioner of Labor Statistics. The part of the job I enjoy the most is working every day with so many talented, dedicated, hard-working people. I am especially pleased when BLS staff members receive recognition for their good work. We recently celebrated one of those occasions.

Thesia Garner and Kathleen Short holding their Roger Herriot Award certificates.

Thesia Garner and Kathleen Short

Thesia Garner of the Office of Prices and Living Conditions and Kathleen Short of the U.S. Census Bureau received the 2016 Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Federal Statistics at the 2016 Joint Statistical Meetings. The award recognizes the important and extensive research Thesia and Kathleen have done together over more than 20 years to develop better measures of poverty in the United States. Their most recent work focused on producing the Supplemental Poverty Measure. This measure provides insight about the effects of public policies and programs on reducing poverty. Herriot Award winners are chosen by a committee of the American Statistical Association and the Washington Statistical Society. Please join me in congratulating Thesia and Kathleen for this recognition and for their research into improving the ways we measure economic hardship.

Why This Counts: Productivity and Its Impact on Our Lives

How can we achieve a higher standard of living? One way might simply be to work more, trading some free time for more income. Although working more will increase how much we can produce and purchase, are we better off? Not necessarily. Only if we increase our efficiency—by producing more goods and services without increasing the number of hours we work—can we be sure to increase our standard of living.

That’s why BLS produces labor productivity statistics every quarter that tell us how well we are improving our economic efficiency. These measures compare the amount of goods and services we produce with the number of hours we work. How can we can improve labor productivity? There are many ways. We can use more and newer machinery and equipment. We can develop new technologies that streamline production. We can improve organization and communication in the workplace and manage people more effectively. Or, we can increase worker skills through education or job training.

So, how much has U.S. labor productivity improved over the years? Compared to 1947, we now produce 330 percent more goods and services per hour of work. On average, thanks to advances in technology, education, management, and so on, you can do in 15 minutes what your grandparents or great grandparents needed more than an hour to do in 1947. This is a substantial increase, and we can see it in the many improvements in living standards since World War II.

Productivity growth in recent years hasn’t been as strong, however. It may seem surprising, given all the new technologies and products in recent years, but we are now living through one of the lowest productivity-growth periods ever recorded. Since the Great Recession of 2007–09 began in the fourth quarter of 2007, labor productivity has grown just 1.0 percent per year. That is less than half the long-term average rate of 2.2 percent since 1947. Although the U.S. economy has been experiencing slow productivity growth since 2007, some industries have been doing well. For instance, the wireless telecommunication carrier industry has had annual labor productivity growth of over 15.0 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Labor productivity growth in the nonfarm business sector is lower in the current business cycle than during any of the previous ten business cycles. Chart 1 shows average annual labor productivity growth during business cycles since World War II.

Chart 1. Average annual percent change in labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector during business cycles

Multifactor productivity—which accounts for the use of machinery, equipment, and other capital, in addition to labor—has also increased more slowly over the current business cycle; it has grown 0.4 percent per year during the 2007–15 period, compared to its long-term rate of 0.9 percent per year since 1987.

Historically, productivity growth has led to gains in compensation for workers, greater profits for firms, and more tax revenue for governments. Compensation, which includes pay and benefits, has not always risen as fast as productivity, however. (See chart 2.) The difference between labor productivity gains and real hourly compensation growth is often called the “wage gap.” Real hourly compensation growth tracked labor productivity growth more closely before the 1970s. Since then, growth in real hourly compensation has lagged behind gains in productivity, widening the gap considerably. Since the start of the Great Recession in the fourth quarter of 2007, real hourly compensation has grown by only 0.6 percent per year; that’s less than half the long-term average of 1.6 percent per year.

Chart 2. Labor productivity and real hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector, 1947–2015

Measures of gross domestic product and employment tell us how the U.S. economy is doing in producing goods and services and creating jobs. Measures of productivity link what our economy produces and the labor and capital used to produce it. Labor productivity is an important statistic to track because gains in productivity are essential to improving our lives and the well-being of our nation. That’s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman meant when he noted, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long-run it’s almost everything.”

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