Worth a Thousand Words? Announcing Ready-to-Go Interactive Graphics with BLS News Releases

Last spring I wrote about how we’ve been using more and better charts and maps to help you understand our statistics. Today I’m excited to tell you about a new set of graphical tools to make our news releases more illuminating at the moment of their posting.

We want everyone to be able to “see” quickly what’s in the hundreds of news releases we publish every year—on price trends, pay and benefits, productivity, employment and unemployment, job openings and labor turnover, and other topics. The format of these news releases still typically includes a few pages of text to explain the latest information about a topic. Most releases also include tables with lots and lots of numbers. These news releases have served our customers well for decades, but we’re always looking for ways to improve our products and services. Many of you have told us that adding charts and maps to our news releases would make them more useful and easier to understand. In recent years we’ve added charts and maps to many news releases, but most releases only include a couple of these visualizations. We are committed to do more.

We’re adding a cool new feature to many of our releases. Starting last fall, we began posting sets of interactive graphics to complement some of our most widely read economic reports. We’ll update these graphics with each new release of data. Our monthly news release on import and export price indexes was the first to have a set of interactive graphics. The quarterly Employment Cost Index news release was the next to include interactive graphics. Most recently, when we published the Employment Situation—often our most watched news release—on January 8, we presented a lengthy new set of charts from our monthly surveys of households and nonfarm establishments. Over the coming months, we will add chart sets for more releases.

I’ve used the word “interactive” to describe these charts. Let me explain what that means. Interactive features let you choose what you want to see. For example, our chart showing nonfarm employment levels over the last 20 years starts out with two lines, one for total nonfarm employment and the other for total private employment. The legend above the chart lets you turn categories on or off, simply by clicking on the industry titles in the legend. If you want to look at, say, the last 10 years instead of the last 20, you can change the time period by clicking and dragging within the chart. If you hover your pointer over the lines in the chart, you can see the exact values for individual months.


In the coming months we will continue to develop interactive graphics for the rest of our most watched monthly and quarterly news releases. Our goal over the next few years is to have interactive graphics to accompany all or nearly all of our news releases. I am thrilled to have this great set of tools to serve our customers better.

Take a look. I know you’ll agree with me that the BLS staff have done a fine job crafting these ready-to-go visualizations. Whatever BLS statistics you follow, I hope you find many uses for them and send us a lot of comments and suggestions!



How People Use the Occupational Outlook Handbook to Search for Careers

BLS released our 2016–17 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook on December 17. It is one of the nation’s most widely used sources of career information. It provides details on hundreds of occupations and is used by career counselors, students, parents, teachers, jobseekers, career changers, education and training officials, and researchers. I have asked guest bloggers from the National Association for College Admission Counseling to share how they and their members use this popular resource.

For Gail Grand’s students, the college search process is about more than just picking a campus.

Teens complete an aptitude and interest test and explore careers before ever submitting applications. The strategy is a smart one. Fewer than four in 10 college students graduate in four years, federal data show. And as tuition rates continue to grow, extra years in school can often mean additional debt.


Tapping into resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) helps teens make wise college choices, said Grand, an independent college counselor based in California’s Westlake Village. It also increases students’ likelihood of graduating on time, she noted.

An updated version of the OOH—an online resource that includes hundreds of occupations—was released today.

“It’s a great jumping off point,” said Grand, a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). “I use it to go more in depth with students. We look at what the career entails, and which fields really appeal to them.”

Every OOH occupation profile includes on-the-job duties and typical entry-level education requirements. Students can also see if the number of jobs in the profession is projected to grow or shrink over the next decade, and check out the median salary.

When teens have access to the data at the same time that they are making college decisions “they become more informed consumers,” said Dana Ponsky, co-director of college counseling at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland.

The OOH can also help students learn more about careers they might have otherwise written off. Ponsky, also a NACAC member, recalls counseling a student at her previous school. The teen had completed an online career assessment that showed he would be well-suited as a florist.

“He was very clear about saying: This isn’t me,” Ponsky said.

But by using the OOH, Ponsky was able to get the student to reflect on other occupations that might be of interest.

“I asked him to think about the fact that the flower business in the United States is one of the biggest export/import businesses in world,” she recalled. “That shifted the conversation. He used the handbook to investigate options in international business. Ultimately, that was what he pursued for undergrad.”

Both Ponsky and Grand agree: Not every high school student can (or should) select an occupation prior to college admission.

Nonetheless, OOH and other career exploration resources are an invaluable part of the college application process.

One of the OOH features that Grand finds most helpful is the “More Info” tab, which commonly includes links to professional groups associated with each occupation. She encourages her students to use those resources to pursue mentorships or job shadow opportunities.

“Lots of times kids are going to change majors, but I think when they have an idea of what they want before they go, they’re more likely to finish in four years ” said Grand, who worked as a school-based counselor for 22 years before founding her company, The College Advisor, Inc. “They have a purpose, and they have a passion.”

Why This Counts: Slips, Trips, and Falls in the Workplace

Every so often as I walk down the halls of the BLS headquarters building in Washington, D.C., I notice a few drips of coffee or water on our otherwise shiny floors. My first reaction is to stoop down and wipe up the spill, or to grab one of the handy “caution” signs we have around the building, to avoid a slip or fall. But my mind quickly turns to our data on slips and falls from our Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, or SOII. Over the past several weeks, we have issued two releases highlighting the latest results on workplace injuries and illnesses. These are part of our occupational safety and health statistics program that also includes data on fatal workplace injuries. Today I want to tell you a little bit about the SOII program and the data we provide.

Did you know that private sector employers identified nearly 3 million workplace injuries and illnesses last year? Incidents recorded by employers run the gamut from minor cuts or bruises—those needing more than just first aid—to severe incidents such as amputations. About a quarter of a million workplaces are asked to keep track of their occupational injuries and illnesses over the year and report them to BLS; employers follow definitions established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). BLS tabulates these data and reports them in summary form; as with all BLS data, we hold information about individual employers in confidence.

Following OSHA rules, employers indicate the severity of a workplace injury or illness based on the outcome of an incident. Those that result in employees being out of work for a day or more are considered the most severe; less severe cases result in some limitation in job duties (for example, put on “light duty”). The least severe cases result in no time off or restriction. Of the nearly 3 million private sector cases identified in 2014, about one in three resulted in the employee being away from work for at least one day.

Workplace injuries and illnesses can happen anywhere. In fact, the three industries with the greatest number of cases in 2014 are diverse: private medical and surgical hospitals (222,300 cases), local government elementary and secondary schools (217,300 cases), and restaurants (192,100 cases). Of course, some of these industries have more injuries and illnesses because they employ a lot of workers. Taking into account employment and the number of hours worked by employees, industries with high injury and illness rates include nursing facilities and police/fire/corrections organizations.


Once we release these data, we turn our focus to the most severe cases—those that result in employees being out of work for a day or more. People often ask us for more details about these cases—which occupations, what is the nature of injury, what event led to the injury, do injuries vary by age? Our second release covers the case circumstances (what happened) and demographic details (to whom) for these most severe cases. Here are a few highlights from our 2014 data:

  • Two occupations reported over 50,000 injury and illness cases each—heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers and laborers/movers.
  • When workers age 65 or older get hurt on the job, they are out of work nearly twice as long as all workers; the median for older workers was 17 days, compared to 9 days for all workers.
  • A little more than one-third of workplace injuries and illnesses result in a sprain, strain, or tear, often to upper extremities (such as shoulder) or lower extremities (such as knee or ankle).

And back to my concern about slips and falls, they are one of the three events that result in most workplace incidents. Slips, trips, and falls accounted for about 27 percent of cases involving days away from work in 2014. Overexertion (such as straining to lift) accounted for 33 percent of cases; contact (such as being hit by a piece of equipment) accounted for 22 percent.


So the next time you see that spill in the hallway, make sure it gets taken care of before you become a BLS statistic.

Data Snapshot: Employment Projections 2014–24

This morning, we released employment projections data about the labor market from 2014 to 2024. Looking at the labor market 10 years in the future lets us provide data users with information they can use when choosing a career or determining the education and training needed for job success.

For example, fast-growing occupations show how the economy is changing. In today’s release, four out of the top five fastest-growing occupations are related to healthcare. Occupations adding the most new jobs also show there will be many opportunities for employment in healthcare, retail trade, and food services over the next 10 years.

These projections also feed into our most popular publication here at BLS, the Occupational Outlook Handbook. To be released next week on December 17, the handbook is a guide to career information about hundreds of occupations. Used by jobseekers, students, guidance counselors, employers, and many others, the handbook contains information on the number of jobs and growth rates, along with needed education and training, for more than 300 occupations.

To help you visualize these new numbers, check out the video! It will give you a snapshot of the data highlights from the release.

Why This Counts: Understanding what the Producer Price Index measures

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the October 2015 “Producer Price Index for Final Demand and Intermediate Demand.” Let me explain what that technical-sounding title is all about. A decades-long process to improve and expand the Producer Price Index (PPI) culminated in the first monthly release of Final Demand-Intermediate Demand data in early 2014. This expansion may have made things a little more complex for the casual user. While we are exploring ways to simplify our words and concepts, I’m taking a stab at simplification in today’s blog. A rose by another name might be easier to understand.

We have 125 years’ worth of PPI data—one of the oldest measures produced by BLS. Originally called the Wholesale Price Index, the PPI measures the change in the prices that “producers” (businesses) receive for the sale of goods and services. We divide these producer prices into those paid for “final demand” and those paid for “intermediate demand.” Today I’m going to focus on final demand; in a future post I’ll examine intermediate demand.

The PPI for Final Demand measures the change in the prices that businesses receive for the sale of goods and services that are in their final form—ready to use. Sales may be to individuals (for personal consumption), to other businesses (for capital investment), to governments, or for export. The index is further divided by the type of product sold. I’ll provide a few examples—a manufacturer, a service provider, and a retailer.

In October 2015, the PPI for passenger cars rose 2.6 percent for the month and 1.4 percent from a year earlier. To measure this change in the price that auto manufacturers receive for the sale of passenger cars, we want to compare apples to apples. For example, any extra cost associated with adding mandated back-up cameras would be removed as part of a “quality adjustment” made to ensure price comparability. Simply put, auto manufacturers received 1.4 percent more for the sale of a comparable car than they did a year earlier.

As services have become a bigger and bigger part of the U.S. economy, the PPI has expanded its coverage to include many services, such as healthcare. The price that healthcare providers receive for their services, such as office exams, lab tests, and hospitalizations, include co-pays and both public and private insurance reimbursements. The PPI for outpatient care rose 0.2 percent in October 2015 but fell 0.3 percent over the year. Outpatient healthcare providers received 0.3 percent less for their services than they did a year earlier.

For wholesalers and retailers, the PPI measures the difference between the purchase price and the selling price of goods; this difference is known as the margin. Think of your local supermarket. They purchase goods for sale to customers—meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, quinoa, toilet paper, and other items—all things you might put in your grocery basket. The difference between the price the grocer pays for these goods and the price they receive from the consumer is their margin. The PPI measures the change in that margin. In October 2015, the PPI final demand trade services fell 0.3 percent over the month and 0.7 percent from a year earlier. Wholesalers’ and retailers’ margins were 0.7 percent less than a year earlier.

The following chart shows PPI final demand price changes for selected categories over the past several years.

PPI blog

I hope I’ve provided a little insight into how to read and understand the monthly PPI release. In the future I’ll try to delve further into the PPI and its measure of intermediate demand. Stay tuned.