Why This Counts: Volunteering in the United States

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is best known for our monthly job and inflation reports. We also publish data on many other topics, ranging from how Americans spend their time and money to workplace injuries and the growth of entrepreneurship. My new blog series, “Why This Counts,” will explain why we conduct our surveys and how people can use the data at work and home. I hope this series will take the mystery out of our data and make our work come to life for both new and advanced users.

We recently released data on volunteering in the United States. About 62.8 million people volunteered for an organization at least once between September 2013 and September 2014. That’s 25.3 percent of the nation’s civilian population age 16 and older.

volunteering-in-2014

Why do we produce these volunteering data, and how do they affect you?

The mission of BLS and the other federal statistical agencies is to provide quality, unbiased data to support better decisions. Data about volunteers show how volunteering in the United States may be changing. People in communities across the country can use the data to understand civic engagement.

The latest volunteering data come from questions asked in the September 2014 Current Population Survey. That’s the monthly household survey that collects information about people who are working, looking for work, or not in the labor force.

The Corporation for National and Community Service provides funding to ask the questions about volunteering. That federal agency helps Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service.

Volunteers are people who performed unpaid volunteer tasks through or for an organization at any point during the survey reference year. (That’s September 1, 2013, through the week of September 12, 2014.) We ask questions about the number of hours people volunteered, the organizations they served, and the tasks they performed.

The Corporation for National and Community Service, charities, and others use the data to track national volunteering rates and conduct research on volunteer retention, services, and more.

The volunteer data track the number of volunteers in America, their characteristics, and the things they do to serve others. These data help volunteer organizations decide the best ways to recruit volunteers, care for seniors, help communities respond to disasters, teach people to read, and much more.

I’m happy that we produce these data to examine the important, though unpaid, contributions that volunteers make to our economy.

President’s 2016 budget would expand labor market data

A few weeks ago President Obama presented his fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. That budget proposes $632.7 million in funding for BLS, an increase of $40.5 million over our fiscal year 2015 funding. The 2016 budget proposes new funding to help BLS meet some important data needs. I asked Mike Horrigan, the Associate Commissioner for Employment and Unemployment Statistics, to explain how we plan to use the proposed funding to improve our understanding of labor markets.

The President’s 2016 budget asks Congress for funding that would expand our data on the flows into and out of employment. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) provides monthly national measures on labor demand by industry and firm size. These measures complement the unemployment rate, which measures labor supply. JOLTS is the only BLS survey that measures current demand in the labor market. We publish a monthly report that shows the levels and rates for job openings, hires, and separations. The report also presents information on three types of separations: quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations. BLS currently publishes national and regional JOLTS data 5 to 6 weeks after we collect the data. A growing number of our customers from federal and state agencies, research organizations, and elsewhere have asked us for more detailed and timely JOLTS data.

The new funding would improve the JOLTS program in three ways:

  1. It would make the data available sooner. We would publish JOLTS data when we publish The Employment Situation each month.
  2. It would make the data more accurate and relevant. We would be able to publish more industry detail and new information for states and by establishment size.
  3. It would make the survey deeper and more agile. We could add questions on labor market issues to strengthen our understanding of openings, hires, and separations.

In our dynamic economy, conditions can change rapidly. Better information on the demand for labor can provide an early warning of downturns or signal improvement ahead. Over the longer term, more information about labor demand may help us predict trends in the wages and skills of jobs created and destroyed.

The President’s 2016 budget also asks for funding to add questions each year to the Current Population Survey. The survey provides high-quality estimates each month about employment, unemployment, worker characteristics, and other topics. The survey can’t provide information on some important groups, such as temporary workers, without more funding.

To fill this gap, we would add questions to the survey one month each year. In odd-numbered years, the survey would ask questions about workers in temporary jobs. These questions would explore important topics, such as what types of workers are most likely to have temporary jobs and how temporary employment has changed.

In even-numbered years, the survey would ask questions on other labor market topics. For example, we plan to ask questions about work schedules, including flexible work schedules, shift work, and working at home. These questions would provide insight on workplace flexibility and work-family balance for women and men of different occupations, ages, family types, and race and ethnic groups. These questions also would help us study how flexible work arrangements affect earnings.

With this new funding, we also could develop new questions on emerging topics, such as entrepreneurship. This information would improve our understanding of new trends and developments in the labor market.

Women in Statistics: Beyond the Headline

BLS Commissioner Erica Groshen and Department of Labor Chief Economist Heidi Shierholz wrote this post about women in the statistics profession. This post also was published in the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.

As the top two economists at the Labor Department, a recent article in The Washington Post caught our eye. The article, entitled “Women flocking to statistics, the newly hot, high-tech field of data science,” stated that statistics is the one STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) profession where women are taking the lead.

As women and as economists, we see this as welcome news.

We both strongly believe that guiding more women into careers in science and math is essential. It’s good for women and their families because there are so many new, exciting, and rewarding opportunities in this field. And our whole economy will benefit as more talented women participate fully in these innovative activities. At the Department of Labor we produce a wealth of data on this topic, so we wanted to take a look at the numbers beyond the headline.

People in general are entering statistics jobs—and women seem to be holding their own. The total employment number for statisticians has grown quite a bit in recent years, from 28,000 in 2010 to 72,000 in 2013. Women  accounted for 38.3 percent of those 72,000 statisticians, according to Current Population Survey data. In comparison, the “computer and mathematical occupations” category as a whole was 26.1 percent female.

One telling sign about the potential rise of women in this field is that, prior to 2013, the number of female statisticians was too small to publish. We look forward to making historical comparisons and tracking trends as we get more data on the number of female statisticians in the years to come.

One promising factor is that statistics as a profession is expected to see strong growth in coming years. The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook profile of statisticians shows the employment of statisticians is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the projected growth rate of 11 percent across all occupations. To contrast this with some data from our profession, employment of economists is expected to grow 14 percent in the same time period.

In part because of such strong growth, the field also offers a competitive salary. The median wage for a statistician is $79,290 per year, with about a quarter of statisticians working for the government, mostly at the federal level like us.

Julie Gershunskaya, a BLS statistician who received her Ph.D. in Survey Methodology from the University of Maryland in 2011, said she found in school that students focused much more on each other’s qualifications and experience than on gender.

Already, more women are getting advanced degrees in statistics than in similar fields. According to the American Mathematical Society’s 2013 Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences in the U.S., women accounted for 44 percent of Ph.D.’s granted in statistics/biostatistics, compared to all other mathematical science doctoral degrees combined, where 27 percent are female.

The state where the most statisticians work is Maryland, but if you want to make the most money, head to California, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey, the three top-paying places for statisticians, according to BLS Occupational Employment Statistics.

So, is the headline that “women are flocking to statistics” reflected in our current data? Not quite yet. We can only see a few glimmers thus far, but it’s important to remember that the most detailed data can be slow to reflect the rapid changes we now see anecdotally.

This data snapshot confirms the outlook is indeed bright for the field of statistics as a whole. The rise of women in statistics is especially exciting; we hope it continues and carries forward to other STEM professions as well.

The 2016 President’s Budget for the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Today, President Obama presented to Congress his fiscal year 2016 budget request. That request proposes $632.7 million in funding for BLS for the year beginning October 1, 2015. That is an increase of $40.5 million over the funding we have received for fiscal year 2015. In this post, I’ll share some information about the budget and what it means for BLS.

Our customers and employees will be pleased to learn that, at this proposed funding level, we won’t have to reduce BLS programs in fiscal year 2016. The 2016 budget would allow BLS to continue providing important information about the labor market, price changes, and working conditions the American public needs and values to make decisions.

New program initiatives in the 2016 budget would enable BLS to meet important data needs. One initiative proposes improving the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey to better understand U.S. labor market dynamics. If this initiative receives funding, BLS would release the data sooner, when The Employment Situation comes out each month. The proposal also would expand the survey sample and add more focused questions on labor market issues.

The 2016 budget also proposes adding questions to the Current Population Survey each year about workplace trends. These questions would be on such topics as the growth of alternative work arrangements and flexible work schedules and on the work-family balance.

In addition, BLS would change the Consumer Expenditure Survey to support the U.S. Census Bureau as it develops alternative poverty measure. These new measures would complement the standard measure the Census Bureau has produced since the 1960s.

Finally, the fiscal year 2016 budget includes a proposal to restore funding for the International Price Program Export Price Indexes.

More specific information on the program changes in the fiscal year 2016 budget are at http://www.dol.gov/dol/budget.

Protecting the public’s trust in federal statistics

Why should people trust BLS and other federal statistical agencies? Today I want to celebrate a new publication that answers this question. The new Statistical Policy Directive Number 1 (which some of us now call our “Prime Directive”) lays out what federal statistical agencies do and don’t do.

The directive makes a convincing case for why people can trust federal statistics. I’m happy to have it in place for all to see. My compliments to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, which coordinates policies for federal statistical agencies, for publishing the directive!

The directive fits right in with what I tell groups around the country about our work. These groups nearly always include users of our data and analysis. Often these groups also include the people and organizations that provide information we use to create our statistics. When I describe the goals of BLS, I often use the acronym AORTA. Here’s what it stands for:

  • Accurate
  • Objective
  • Relevant
  • Timely
  • Accessible

The aorta is your body’s largest artery. It carries oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. At BLS, we view good information as the lifeblood of democracy and free enterprise. People, businesses, and government leaders make better choices when they have crucial information that is accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible.

The directive describes the four responsibilities of federal statistical agencies. These four reinforce our AORTA goals. Here’s a summary:

  1. We must produce information that is relevant for households, businesses, and governments. That means we must speak regularly to the people who use our information to understand their needs. We also must provide information as soon as we can and make it easy to get.
  2. We must produce information that is accurate and explain how we ensure accuracy. That means we must continue seeking new technologies and methods for collecting information and making it available for people to use. We must explain how we collect the information and any limitations or possible sources of error. When we discover errors, we need to tell the public and explain what we will do to correct the errors.
  3. We must do our work without political or other types of bias. That means we must separate our work from the parts of the government that make or enforce laws and regulations and run programs.
  4. We must protect the trust of the people and organizations that provide information for our surveys and administrative records. Most of the surveys that statistical agencies conduct are voluntary. Individuals, businesses, and other organizations don’t have to take part in our surveys, and yet they respond at high rates. They do so because we uphold their trust. We pledge to use the information they provide only for statistical purposes. In other words, we use the information to study groups and not the individuals or organizations that compose those groups. We never let other agencies use the information we collect to enforce laws or regulations or manage government programs.

These principles have been around for a while in other forms. Having them restated and enshrined in our new “Prime Directive” can help ensure the public’s trust in federal statistics. Please read them for yourself and let me know what you think!