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Making Sense of Job Openings and Other Labor Market Measures

The current “supply” of labor gets a lot of attention. That concept refers to the number of people working or looking for work. Our monthly Employment Situation report is where policymakers and the general public learn how that supply has changed. BLS also examines the current “demand” for labor with monthly information on filled jobs and job openings. Readers find those estimate in the BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). JOLTS defines job openings as all positions that are open, but not filled, on the last business day of the month. A job is “open” only if it meets all of these conditions:

  • A specific position exists and there is work available for that position.
  • The job could start within 30 days.
  • There is active recruiting for workers from outside the establishment.

There were 9.2 million job openings in May 2021, the same record-high level first reached in April. The May job opening rate also was the same as April’s record high; 6.0 percent of all currently available positions were unfilled. This rate is the number of job openings divided by the sum of current employment plus job openings. You can think of it as a measure of capacity or the rate of current unmet demand for labor.

Job openings rate, total nonfarm, December 2000 to May 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

This spike in openings was sudden by historical standards. It came just one year after an equally sudden drop, which bottomed out in April 2020. In contrast, openings fell more gradually during the 2007–09 recession, then grew even more gradually during the subsequent recovery. The labor market movements during the COVID-19 pandemic have been far more abrupt than those in earlier business cycles.

An abundance of job openings usually signals a “tight” labor market; the demand for labor exceeds the supply at the offered wage. For workers, this may mean it is relatively easy to find a desirable job, assuming they possess the skills employers are seeking. In contrast, employers must compete to hire well-qualified workers.

High unemployment usually signals a “loose” labor market, in which many applicants compete for a limited number of openings; the supply of labor exceeds the demand. Unemployment—the number of workers who lack but seek jobs—stood at 9.5 million in June 2021. That was, down from its pandemic peak of 23 million in April 2020 but still well above its level of less than 6 million before the pandemic. Millions more have left the labor force during the pandemic, and many of them have not returned. These people are not counted as unemployed because they are not actively looking for work. However, we know that 6.4 million of those not in the labor force indicate they want a job now, and 1.6 million say they are not currently searching because of pandemic-related reasons. Some of these people might be willing to consider offers and might add more “looseness” to the labor market.

Comparing the number of job openings to the number of unemployed people provides one measure of the current job market. In May 2021, there was just one unemployed person per job opening—a ratio usually associated with a tight labor market.

Number of unemployed per job opening, December 2000 to May 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

So, with openings at an all-time high, and unemployment still elevated, is the labor market tight or loose? The answer is complicated. It also can feel different depending on each worker’s and employer’s circumstances. The answer also differs when you look beyond the national data to uncover differing stories by industry or geography.

As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and many restaurants and other businesses return to normal operations, some employers are finding it hard to hire enough workers quickly. Some economists are unsure whether recent, temporary increases in the availability and generosity of unemployment insurance have influenced some unemployed workers’ interest in taking jobs. At the same time, the lingering effects of the pandemic probably kept some potential workers from entering or reentering the labor force, especially those with school-aged children whose schools were still closed, and those lacking childcare options. These factors could also affect employers’ ability to hire.

We should also remember that not all job applicants come from the ranks of the unemployed. Many are changing jobs or entering (or reentering) the labor force. The recent abundance of job openings may be increasing workers’ likelihood to change jobs. Just as openings reached a new high in April 2021, so did quits, at 4.0 million. Unlike openings, however, quits edged down a bit in May.

Job openings, hires, and quit rates, total nonfarm, December 2000 to May 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Another factor could be mismatches between the open jobs and the jobseekers. In June 2021, about 15 percent of unemployed people were seeking part-time work. We don’t know how many of the openings were part-time. Since February of this year, the share of unemployed workers who were unemployed 27 weeks or longer has remained above 40 percent, a level last seen in 2012 and roughly twice the 2019 level. Historically, those unemployed longer are slower to connect with new jobs and more likely to stop looking. It is also possible that some workers’ job preferences changed, at least temporarily, as the pandemic changed the perceived risks and other characteristics of many jobs.

Finally, with many people on the sidelines of the labor market, and job openings at record high levels, employers may look to increase wages to entice potential employees back into the market. The BLS monthly measure of wage trends, average hourly earnings, has been heavily influenced by large employment shifts since the pandemic began. When employment dropped sharply in the spring of 2020, average wages increased, mainly because lower-paid workers were more likely to be out of work. Now that many businesses are reopening, some evidence of wage increases can be seen by focusing on the leisure and hospitality industry. From February 2020, just before the pandemic began, to June 2021, average hourly earnings for this industry rose 3.1 percent, after adjusting for inflation. Data from the Employment Cost Index, which are not influenced by employment shifts, show wages and salaries in the leisure and hospitality industry increasing 1.6 percent, after adjusting for inflation, for the year ending March 2021.

Percent change since February 2020 in real (inflation-adjusted) average hourly earnings

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

While some employers might find it hard to hire workers quickly, there is a lot of hiring going on. Consider the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants. In May, a whopping 9.0 percent of positions were open. But the hiring rate was even higher—9.3 percent, far above levels before the pandemic.

Job openings and hires rates, leisure and hospitality, December 2000 to May 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

The labor market cannot be characterized with a single number. Over time, people change jobs, look for jobs, or leave the labor market entirely. These dynamics can be complicated, as they certainly were during the COVID-19 pandemic. This discussion covers just some of the many measures BLS reports to illuminate labor market conditions. For more analysis of JOLTS data, check out recent articles in the Monthly Labor Review and Beyond the Numbers.

Job openings rate, total nonfarm, December 2000 to May 2021
MonthRate

Dec 2000

3.7%

Jan 2001

3.8

Feb 2001

3.7

Mar 2001

3.5

Apr 2001

3.4

May 2001

3.2

Jun 2001

3.2

Jul 2001

3.3

Aug 2001

3.0

Sep 2001

3.0

Oct 2001

2.7

Nov 2001

2.8

Dec 2001

2.7

Jan 2002

2.7

Feb 2002

2.6

Mar 2002

2.7

Apr 2002

2.6

May 2002

2.6

Jun 2002

2.5

Jul 2002

2.5

Aug 2002

2.6

Sep 2002

2.5

Oct 2002

2.6

Nov 2002

2.6

Dec 2002

2.4

Jan 2003

2.6

Feb 2003

2.4

Mar 2003

2.3

Apr 2003

2.3

May 2003

2.5

Jun 2003

2.5

Jul 2003

2.2

Aug 2003

2.4

Sep 2003

2.3

Oct 2003

2.5

Nov 2003

2.5

Dec 2003

2.5

Jan 2004

2.6

Feb 2004

2.6

Mar 2004

2.6

Apr 2004

2.6

May 2004

2.7

Jun 2004

2.5

Jul 2004

2.8

Aug 2004

2.6

Sep 2004

2.8

Oct 2004

2.9

Nov 2004

2.6

Dec 2004

3.0

Jan 2005

2.8

Feb 2005

2.9

Mar 2005

2.9

Apr 2005

3.0

May 2005

2.8

Jun 2005

2.9

Jul 2005

3.1

Aug 2005

3.0

Sep 2005

3.1

Oct 2005

3.0

Nov 2005

3.1

Dec 2005

3.1

Jan 2006

3.1

Feb 2006

3.1

Mar 2006

3.4

Apr 2006

3.4

May 2006

3.2

Jun 2006

3.3

Jul 2006

3.1

Aug 2006

3.3

Sep 2006

3.3

Oct 2006

3.2

Nov 2006

3.3

Dec 2006

3.3

Jan 2007

3.3

Feb 2007

3.3

Mar 2007

3.5

Apr 2007

3.3

May 2007

3.3

Jun 2007

3.4

Jul 2007

3.2

Aug 2007

3.2

Sep 2007

3.3

Oct 2007

3.2

Nov 2007

3.3

Dec 2007

3.2

Jan 2008

3.2

Feb 2008

3.0

Mar 2008

3.0

Apr 2008

2.8

May 2008

3.0

Jun 2008

2.7

Jul 2008

2.7

Aug 2008

2.6

Sep 2008

2.3

Oct 2008

2.4

Nov 2008

2.3

Dec 2008

2.3

Jan 2009

2.0

Feb 2009

2.1

Mar 2009

1.9

Apr 2009

1.7

May 2009

1.9

Jun 2009

1.9

Jul 2009

1.7

Aug 2009

1.8

Sep 2009

1.9

Oct 2009

1.8

Nov 2009

1.9

Dec 2009

1.9

Jan 2010

2.1

Feb 2010

2.0

Mar 2010

2.0

Apr 2010

2.4

May 2010

2.2

Jun 2010

2.1

Jul 2010

2.3

Aug 2010

2.2

Sep 2010

2.2

Oct 2010

2.4

Nov 2010

2.4

Dec 2010

2.3

Jan 2011

2.3

Feb 2011

2.4

Mar 2011

2.4

Apr 2011

2.4

May 2011

2.4

Jun 2011

2.6

Jul 2011

2.7

Aug 2011

2.5

Sep 2011

2.8

Oct 2011

2.7

Nov 2011

2.6

Dec 2011

2.8

Jan 2012

2.8

Feb 2012

2.6

Mar 2012

2.9

Apr 2012

2.8

May 2012

2.8

Jun 2012

2.8

Jul 2012

2.7

Aug 2012

2.8

Sep 2012

2.8

Oct 2012

2.7

Nov 2012

2.8

Dec 2012

2.9

Jan 2013

2.8

Feb 2013

2.9

Mar 2013

2.9

Apr 2013

2.9

May 2013

3.0

Jun 2013

3.0

Jul 2013

2.8

Aug 2013

2.9

Sep 2013

2.9

Oct 2013

3.0

Nov 2013

2.9

Dec 2013

2.9

Jan 2014

2.9

Feb 2014

3.1

Mar 2014

3.1

Apr 2014

3.2

May 2014

3.3

Jun 2014

3.5

Jul 2014

3.4

Aug 2014

3.7

Sep 2014

3.4

Oct 2014

3.5

Nov 2014

3.3

Dec 2014

3.5

Jan 2015

3.7

Feb 2015

3.7

Mar 2015

3.6

Apr 2015

3.8

May 2015

3.8

Jun 2015

3.6

Jul 2015

4.1

Aug 2015

3.7

Sep 2015

3.7

Oct 2015

3.9

Nov 2015

3.8

Dec 2015

3.9

Jan 2016

4.0

Feb 2016

3.9

Mar 2016

4.1

Apr 2016

3.9

May 2016

3.9

Jun 2016

3.8

Jul 2016

4.0

Aug 2016

3.8

Sep 2016

3.9

Oct 2016

3.7

Nov 2016

4.0

Dec 2016

3.9

Jan 2017

3.7

Feb 2017

3.9

Mar 2017

3.8

Apr 2017

4.0

May 2017

3.8

Jun 2017

4.1

Jul 2017

4.1

Aug 2017

4.1

Sep 2017

4.1

Oct 2017

4.2

Nov 2017

4.1

Dec 2017

4.1

Jan 2018

4.3

Feb 2018

4.3

Mar 2018

4.4

Apr 2018

4.4

May 2018

4.5

Jun 2018

4.7

Jul 2018

4.6

Aug 2018

4.6

Sep 2018

4.7

Oct 2018

4.7

Nov 2018

4.8

Dec 2018

4.7

Jan 2019

4.7

Feb 2019

4.5

Mar 2019

4.7

Apr 2019

4.6

May 2019

4.6

Jun 2019

4.5

Jul 2019

4.5

Aug 2019

4.5

Sep 2019

4.5

Oct 2019

4.6

Nov 2019

4.4

Dec 2019

4.2

Jan 2020

4.5

Feb 2020

4.4

Mar 2020

3.7

Apr 2020

3.4

May 2020

3.9

Jun 2020

4.2

Jul 2020

4.6

Aug 2020

4.4

Sep 2020

4.5

Oct 2020

4.6

Nov 2020

4.5

Dec 2020

4.5

Jan 2021

4.7

Feb 2021

5.0

Mar 2021

5.4

Apr 2021

6.0

May 2021

6.0
Number of unemployed per job opening, December 2000 to May 2021
MonthRatio

Dec 2000

1.1

Jan 2001

1.2

Feb 2001

1.2

Mar 2001

1.3

Apr 2001

1.4

May 2001

1.4

Jun 2001

1.5

Jul 2001

1.5

Aug 2001

1.8

Sep 2001

1.8

Oct 2001

2.1

Nov 2001

2.1

Dec 2001

2.2

Jan 2002

2.2

Feb 2002

2.4

Mar 2002

2.3

Apr 2002

2.5

May 2002

2.4

Jun 2002

2.5

Jul 2002

2.5

Aug 2002

2.4

Sep 2002

2.5

Oct 2002

2.4

Nov 2002

2.4

Dec 2002

2.7

Jan 2003

2.5

Feb 2003

2.7

Mar 2003

2.8

Apr 2003

2.8

May 2003

2.7

Jun 2003

2.7

Jul 2003

3.0

Aug 2003

2.8

Sep 2003

2.9

Oct 2003

2.6

Nov 2003

2.6

Dec 2003

2.4

Jan 2004

2.4

Feb 2004

2.3

Mar 2004

2.4

Apr 2004

2.3

May 2004

2.2

Jun 2004

2.5

Jul 2004

2.1

Aug 2004

2.3

Sep 2004

2.1

Oct 2004

2.0

Nov 2004

2.3

Dec 2004

1.9

Jan 2005

2.0

Feb 2005

2.0

Mar 2005

1.9

Apr 2005

1.8

May 2005

2.0

Jun 2005

1.9

Jul 2005

1.7

Aug 2005

1.8

Sep 2005

1.7

Oct 2005

1.8

Nov 2005

1.8

Dec 2005

1.7

Jan 2006

1.6

Feb 2006

1.7

Mar 2006

1.5

Apr 2006

1.5

May 2006

1.6

Jun 2006

1.5

Jul 2006

1.6

Aug 2006

1.5

Sep 2006

1.4

Oct 2006

1.5

Nov 2006

1.5

Dec 2006

1.5

Jan 2007

1.5

Feb 2007

1.5

Mar 2007

1.4

Apr 2007

1.5

May 2007

1.5

Jun 2007

1.4

Jul 2007

1.6

Aug 2007

1.6

Sep 2007

1.5

Oct 2007

1.6

Nov 2007

1.6

Dec 2007

1.7

Jan 2008

1.7

Feb 2008

1.8

Mar 2008

1.9

Apr 2008

1.9

May 2008

2.0

Jun 2008

2.2

Jul 2008

2.4

Aug 2008

2.6

Sep 2008

2.9

Oct 2008

3.0

Nov 2008

3.3

Dec 2008

3.6

Jan 2009

4.4

Feb 2009

4.5

Mar 2009

5.3

Apr 2009

6.0

May 2009

5.7

Jun 2009

5.9

Jul 2009

6.5

Aug 2009

6.3

Sep 2009

6.0

Oct 2009

6.4

Nov 2009

6.1

Dec 2009

5.9

Jan 2010

5.3

Feb 2010

5.7

Mar 2010

5.7

Apr 2010

4.9

May 2010

5.0

Jun 2010

5.2

Jul 2010

4.7

Aug 2010

4.9

Sep 2010

5.0

Oct 2010

4.5

Nov 2010

4.7

Dec 2010

4.7

Jan 2011

4.5

Feb 2011

4.3

Mar 2011

4.2

Apr 2011

4.3

May 2011

4.4

Jun 2011

4.0

Jul 2011

3.8

Aug 2011

4.2

Sep 2011

3.7

Oct 2011

3.8

Nov 2011

3.7

Dec 2011

3.5

Jan 2012

3.3

Feb 2012

3.5

Mar 2012

3.2

Apr 2012

3.3

May 2012

3.3

Jun 2012

3.2

Jul 2012

3.4

Aug 2012

3.3

Sep 2012

3.1

Oct 2012

3.2

Nov 2012

3.1

Dec 2012

3.1

Jan 2013

3.2

Feb 2013

3.0

Mar 2013

2.9

Apr 2013

2.9

May 2013

2.8

Jun 2013

2.8

Jul 2013

2.9

Aug 2013

2.8

Sep 2013

2.7

Oct 2013

2.6

Nov 2013

2.6

Dec 2013

2.5

Jan 2014

2.5

Feb 2014

2.4

Mar 2014

2.4

Apr 2014

2.1

May 2014

2.1

Jun 2014

1.9

Jul 2014

2.0

Aug 2014

1.8

Sep 2014

1.9

Oct 2014

1.8

Nov 2014

1.9

Dec 2014

1.7

Jan 2015

1.7

Feb 2015

1.6

Mar 2015

1.6

Apr 2015

1.5

May 2015

1.6

Jun 2015

1.6

Jul 2015

1.3

Aug 2015

1.5

Sep 2015

1.4

Oct 2015

1.4

Nov 2015

1.4

Dec 2015

1.4

Jan 2016

1.3

Feb 2016

1.3

Mar 2016

1.3

Apr 2016

1.4

May 2016

1.3

Jun 2016

1.3

Jul 2016

1.3

Aug 2016

1.4

Sep 2016

1.4

Oct 2016

1.4

Nov 2016

1.3

Dec 2016

1.3

Jan 2017

1.3

Feb 2017

1.2

Mar 2017

1.2

Apr 2017

1.2

May 2017

1.2

Jun 2017

1.1

Jul 2017

1.1

Aug 2017

1.1

Sep 2017

1.1

Oct 2017

1.0

Nov 2017

1.1

Dec 2017

1.0

Jan 2018

1.0

Feb 2018

1.0

Mar 2018

1.0

Apr 2018

0.9

May 2018

0.9

Jun 2018

0.9

Jul 2018

0.9

Aug 2018

0.9

Sep 2018

0.8

Oct 2018

0.8

Nov 2018

0.8

Dec 2018

0.9

Jan 2019

0.9

Feb 2019

0.9

Mar 2019

0.8

Apr 2019

0.8

May 2019

0.8

Jun 2019

0.8

Jul 2019

0.8

Aug 2019

0.8

Sep 2019

0.8

Oct 2019

0.8

Nov 2019

0.9

Dec 2019

0.9

Jan 2020

0.8

Feb 2020

0.8

Mar 2020

1.2

Apr 2020

5.0

May 2020

3.9

Jun 2020

2.9

Jul 2020

2.4

Aug 2020

2.1

Sep 2020

1.9

Oct 2020

1.6

Nov 2020

1.6

Dec 2020

1.6

Jan 2021

1.4

Feb 2021

1.3

Mar 2021

1.2

Apr 2021

1.1

May 2021

1.0
Job openings, hires, and quit rates, total nonfarm, December 2000 to May 2021
MonthJob openings rateHires rateQuits rate

Dec 2000

3.7%4.1%2.2%

Jan 2001

3.84.32.4

Feb 2001

3.74.02.3

Mar 2001

3.54.22.3

Apr 2001

3.43.92.4

May 2001

3.24.12.3

Jun 2001

3.23.92.2

Jul 2001

3.34.02.2

Aug 2001

3.04.02.2

Sep 2001

3.03.82.1

Oct 2001

2.73.92.1

Nov 2001

2.83.72.0

Dec 2001

2.73.72.0

Jan 2002

2.73.72.2

Feb 2002

2.63.72.0

Mar 2002

2.73.61.9

Apr 2002

2.63.82.0

May 2002

2.63.71.9

Jun 2002

2.53.71.9

Jul 2002

2.53.82.0

Aug 2002

2.63.72.0

Sep 2002

2.53.71.9

Oct 2002

2.63.71.9

Nov 2002

2.63.71.8

Dec 2002

2.43.71.9

Jan 2003

2.63.91.9

Feb 2003

2.43.61.9

Mar 2003

2.33.41.8

Apr 2003

2.33.51.8

May 2003

2.53.61.8

Jun 2003

2.53.61.8

Jul 2003

2.23.61.7

Aug 2003

2.43.61.7

Sep 2003

2.33.71.8

Oct 2003

2.53.81.9

Nov 2003

2.53.71.8

Dec 2003

2.53.81.9

Jan 2004

2.63.71.8

Feb 2004

2.63.71.9

Mar 2004

2.64.02.0

Apr 2004

2.63.91.9

May 2004

2.73.81.8

Jun 2004

2.53.82.0

Jul 2004

2.83.72.0

Aug 2004

2.63.82.0

Sep 2004

2.83.81.9

Oct 2004

2.93.91.9

Nov 2004

2.63.92.1

Dec 2004

3.03.92.0

Jan 2005

2.83.92.1

Feb 2005

2.94.02.0

Mar 2005

2.94.02.1

Apr 2005

3.04.02.1

May 2005

2.83.92.1

Jun 2005

2.94.02.1

Jul 2005

3.14.02.0

Aug 2005

3.04.02.2

Sep 2005

3.14.12.3

Oct 2005

3.03.82.1

Nov 2005

3.14.02.1

Dec 2005

3.13.92.1

Jan 2006

3.13.92.2

Feb 2006

3.14.02.2

Mar 2006

3.44.12.2

Apr 2006

3.43.82.0

May 2006

3.24.02.2

Jun 2006

3.34.02.2

Jul 2006

3.14.12.2

Aug 2006

3.33.92.2

Sep 2006

3.33.92.1

Oct 2006

3.23.92.2

Nov 2006

3.34.02.2

Dec 2006

3.33.82.2

Jan 2007

3.33.92.1

Feb 2007

3.33.82.1

Mar 2007

3.54.02.2

Apr 2007

3.33.92.1

May 2007

3.34.02.2

Jun 2007

3.43.82.1

Jul 2007

3.23.82.1

Aug 2007

3.23.92.2

Sep 2007

3.33.91.9

Oct 2007

3.23.92.1

Nov 2007

3.33.72.0

Dec 2007

3.23.72.0

Jan 2008

3.23.72.1

Feb 2008

3.03.72.1

Mar 2008

3.03.61.9

Apr 2008

2.83.62.1

May 2008

3.03.41.9

Jun 2008

2.73.61.9

Jul 2008

2.73.41.8

Aug 2008

2.63.41.8

Sep 2008

2.33.31.8

Oct 2008

2.43.31.7

Nov 2008

2.33.01.6

Dec 2008

2.33.21.5

Jan 2009

2.03.11.5

Feb 2009

2.13.01.5

Mar 2009

1.92.91.4

Apr 2009

1.72.91.3

May 2009

1.92.91.3

Jun 2009

1.92.81.3

Jul 2009

1.73.01.3

Aug 2009

1.82.91.2

Sep 2009

1.93.01.2

Oct 2009

1.83.01.3

Nov 2009

1.93.11.4

Dec 2009

1.93.11.4

Jan 2010

2.13.01.3

Feb 2010

2.03.01.4

Mar 2010

2.03.31.4

Apr 2010

2.43.21.5

May 2010

2.23.41.4

Jun 2010

2.13.11.5

Jul 2010

2.33.21.4

Aug 2010

2.23.11.4

Sep 2010

2.23.11.5

Oct 2010

2.43.21.4

Nov 2010

2.43.21.4

Dec 2010

2.33.31.5

Jan 2011

2.33.11.4

Feb 2011

2.43.21.5

Mar 2011

2.43.41.5

Apr 2011

2.43.31.4

May 2011

2.43.21.5

Jun 2011

2.63.31.5

Jul 2011

2.73.21.5

Aug 2011

2.53.31.5

Sep 2011

2.83.31.5

Oct 2011

2.73.31.5

Nov 2011

2.63.31.5

Dec 2011

2.83.31.5

Jan 2012

2.83.31.5

Feb 2012

2.63.41.6

Mar 2012

2.93.41.6

Apr 2012

2.83.31.6

May 2012

2.83.41.6

Jun 2012

2.83.31.6

Jul 2012

2.73.21.5

Aug 2012

2.83.31.5

Sep 2012

2.83.21.4

Oct 2012

2.73.31.5

Nov 2012

2.83.31.5

Dec 2012

2.93.31.5

Jan 2013

2.83.31.7

Feb 2013

2.93.41.7

Mar 2013

2.93.21.6

Apr 2013

2.93.41.7

May 2013

3.03.41.6

Jun 2013

3.03.31.6

Jul 2013

2.83.31.7

Aug 2013

2.93.51.7

Sep 2013

2.93.51.7

Oct 2013

3.03.31.7

Nov 2013

2.93.41.7

Dec 2013

2.93.41.7

Jan 2014

2.93.41.7

Feb 2014

3.13.41.8

Mar 2014

3.13.51.8

Apr 2014

3.23.51.8

May 2014

3.33.51.8

Jun 2014

3.53.51.8

Jul 2014

3.43.61.9

Aug 2014

3.73.51.8

Sep 2014

3.43.72.0

Oct 2014

3.53.71.9

Nov 2014

3.33.61.9

Dec 2014

3.53.71.8

Jan 2015

3.73.62.0

Feb 2015

3.73.61.9

Mar 2015

3.63.62.0

Apr 2015

3.83.71.9

May 2015

3.83.61.9

Jun 2015

3.63.61.9

Jul 2015

4.13.61.9

Aug 2015

3.73.62.0

Sep 2015

3.73.72.0

Oct 2015

3.93.72.0

Nov 2015

3.83.82.0

Dec 2015

3.93.92.1

Jan 2016

4.03.62.0

Feb 2016

3.93.82.1

Mar 2016

4.13.72.0

Apr 2016

3.93.72.1

May 2016

3.93.62.1

Jun 2016

3.83.72.1

Jul 2016

4.03.82.1

Aug 2016

3.83.72.1

Sep 2016

3.93.72.1

Oct 2016

3.73.62.1

Nov 2016

4.03.72.1

Dec 2016

3.93.72.1

Jan 2017

3.73.82.2

Feb 2017

3.93.72.1

Mar 2017

3.83.72.2

Apr 2017

4.03.62.1

May 2017

3.83.72.1

Jun 2017

4.13.92.2

Jul 2017

4.13.82.1

Aug 2017

4.13.82.1

Sep 2017

4.13.72.2

Oct 2017

4.23.82.2

Nov 2017

4.13.72.1

Dec 2017

4.13.72.2

Jan 2018

4.33.72.1

Feb 2018

4.33.82.2

Mar 2018

4.43.82.2

Apr 2018

4.43.82.3

May 2018

4.53.92.3

Jun 2018

4.73.92.3

Jul 2018

4.63.82.3

Aug 2018

4.63.92.3

Sep 2018

4.73.82.3

Oct 2018

4.73.92.3

Nov 2018

4.83.92.3

Dec 2018

4.73.82.3

Jan 2019

4.73.82.3

Feb 2019

4.53.82.4

Mar 2019

4.73.82.3

Apr 2019

4.64.02.3

May 2019

4.63.82.3

Jun 2019

4.53.82.3

Jul 2019

4.54.02.4

Aug 2019

4.53.92.4

Sep 2019

4.53.92.3

Oct 2019

4.63.82.3

Nov 2019

4.43.82.3

Dec 2019

4.23.92.3

Jan 2020

4.53.92.3

Feb 2020

4.43.92.2

Mar 2020

3.73.41.9

Apr 2020

3.43.01.6

May 2020

3.96.21.7

Jun 2020

4.25.61.9

Jul 2020

4.64.52.3

Aug 2020

4.44.62.1

Sep 2020

4.54.22.3

Oct 2020

4.64.22.4

Nov 2020

4.54.22.3

Dec 2020

4.53.82.4

Jan 2021

4.73.82.3

Feb 2021

5.04.02.4

Mar 2021

5.44.22.5

Apr 2021

6.04.22.8

May 2021

6.04.12.5
Percent change since February 2020 in real (inflation-adjusted) average hourly earnings
MonthTotal privateLeisure and hospitality

Feb 2020

0.0%0.0%

Mar 2020

1.10.3

Apr 2020

6.57.7

May 2020

5.44.3

Jun 2020

3.51.4

Jul 2020

3.10.2

Aug 2020

3.10.6

Sep 2020

2.90.6

Oct 2020

2.80.6

Nov 2020

3.00.3

Dec 2020

3.80.5

Jan 2021

3.50.6

Feb 2021

3.41.1

Mar 2021

2.71.8

Apr 2021

2.62.5

May 2021

2.42.9

Jun 2021

1.83.1
Job openings and hires rates, leisure and hospitality, December 2000 to May 2021
MonthJob openings rateHires rate

Dec 2000

4.5%7.4%

Jan 2001

5.27.7

Feb 2001

4.87.3

Mar 2001

5.57.8

Apr 2001

4.68.3

May 2001

4.27.6

Jun 2001

3.67.2

Jul 2001

4.67.7

Aug 2001

4.37.2

Sep 2001

4.37.3

Oct 2001

3.06.9

Nov 2001

3.66.8

Dec 2001

3.56.8

Jan 2002

2.96.5

Feb 2002

3.36.9

Mar 2002

3.36.5

Apr 2002

3.16.9

May 2002

3.26.7

Jun 2002

2.86.6

Jul 2002

3.16.7

Aug 2002

3.26.9

Sep 2002

2.86.7

Oct 2002

3.16.5

Nov 2002

3.26.6

Dec 2002

3.06.8

Jan 2003

3.17.0

Feb 2003

2.96.6

Mar 2003

2.86.4

Apr 2003

3.06.5

May 2003

3.47.0

Jun 2003

3.46.7

Jul 2003

2.76.4

Aug 2003

3.16.7

Sep 2003

3.16.8

Oct 2003

3.66.9

Nov 2003

3.46.8

Dec 2003

3.57.1

Jan 2004

3.56.8

Feb 2004

3.66.9

Mar 2004

3.47.3

Apr 2004

3.27.1

May 2004

3.37.2

Jun 2004

3.67.0

Jul 2004

4.07.0

Aug 2004

3.67.0

Sep 2004

4.07.2

Oct 2004

3.76.9

Nov 2004

3.37.0

Dec 2004

3.66.8

Jan 2005

4.17.2

Feb 2005

4.06.9

Mar 2005

4.27.2

Apr 2005

4.77.0

May 2005

4.06.8

Jun 2005

4.37.3

Jul 2005

4.07.2

Aug 2005

3.87.3

Sep 2005

3.67.2

Oct 2005

3.86.8

Nov 2005

3.97.2

Dec 2005

4.47.1

Jan 2006

4.77.2

Feb 2006

4.47.4

Mar 2006

4.17.2

Apr 2006

4.97.1

May 2006

4.07.1

Jun 2006

4.07.2

Jul 2006

4.37.3

Aug 2006

4.26.8

Sep 2006

4.26.6

Oct 2006

4.37.1

Nov 2006

4.47.5

Dec 2006

4.27.0

Jan 2007

3.76.9

Feb 2007

4.06.9

Mar 2007

4.56.8

Apr 2007

4.07.2

May 2007

4.27.0

Jun 2007

4.57.2

Jul 2007

4.56.8

Aug 2007

4.57.0

Sep 2007

4.86.7

Oct 2007

4.36.9

Nov 2007

4.56.7

Dec 2007

4.16.6

Jan 2008

4.16.3

Feb 2008

3.96.8

Mar 2008

4.16.2

Apr 2008

3.96.3

May 2008

3.96.7

Jun 2008

3.45.9

Jul 2008

3.26.0

Aug 2008

3.16.2

Sep 2008

3.05.9

Oct 2008

3.05.8

Nov 2008

2.65.3

Dec 2008

2.65.6

Jan 2009

1.85.4

Feb 2009

2.45.2

Mar 2009

2.04.8

Apr 2009

2.04.7

May 2009

2.25.2

Jun 2009

2.14.8

Jul 2009

1.94.7

Aug 2009

1.55.0

Sep 2009

2.14.8

Oct 2009

2.04.7

Nov 2009

2.15.3

Dec 2009

2.05.0

Jan 2010

2.15.1

Feb 2010

2.04.7

Mar 2010

1.85.2

Apr 2010

2.15.2

May 2010

2.34.9

Jun 2010

2.54.9

Jul 2010

2.45.1

Aug 2010

2.74.9

Sep 2010

2.45.1

Oct 2010

3.15.0

Nov 2010

2.45.0

Dec 2010

2.65.1

Jan 2011

2.74.9

Feb 2011

2.95.1

Mar 2011

2.95.8

Apr 2011

2.45.1

May 2011

2.34.9

Jun 2011

3.05.5

Jul 2011

2.65.4

Aug 2011

2.85.4

Sep 2011

3.15.6

Oct 2011

3.15.5

Nov 2011

3.15.9

Dec 2011

3.25.5

Jan 2012

3.25.7

Feb 2012

2.75.7

Mar 2012

3.26.3

Apr 2012

3.45.5

May 2012

3.25.4

Jun 2012

3.45.3

Jul 2012

3.45.5

Aug 2012

3.05.8

Sep 2012

3.05.2

Oct 2012

3.45.5

Nov 2012

3.55.2

Dec 2012

3.35.8

Jan 2013

3.25.7

Feb 2013

3.65.6

Mar 2013

3.55.7

Apr 2013

3.36.1

May 2013

3.25.7

Jun 2013

3.35.7

Jul 2013

3.45.5

Aug 2013

3.55.4

Sep 2013

3.75.8

Oct 2013

3.65.6

Nov 2013

3.65.5

Dec 2013

3.95.5

Jan 2014

4.05.8

Feb 2014

3.75.9

Mar 2014

3.85.7

Apr 2014

4.35.9

May 2014

4.66.1

Jun 2014

4.46.2

Jul 2014

4.16.0

Aug 2014

4.65.8

Sep 2014

4.66.2

Oct 2014

4.36.0

Nov 2014

4.16.1

Dec 2014

4.56.3

Jan 2015

5.16.1

Feb 2015

4.86.2

Mar 2015

4.66.1

Apr 2015

4.66.3

May 2015

4.46.4

Jun 2015

4.26.1

Jul 2015

4.86.3

Aug 2015

4.46.7

Sep 2015

4.46.7

Oct 2015

4.96.6

Nov 2015

4.76.7

Dec 2015

4.66.8

Jan 2016

4.76.2

Feb 2016

4.76.8

Mar 2016

5.16.6

Apr 2016

4.76.5

May 2016

4.66.6

Jun 2016

4.86.7

Jul 2016

4.66.6

Aug 2016

4.96.6

Sep 2016

4.56.1

Oct 2016

4.66.2

Nov 2016

4.66.7

Dec 2016

4.56.4

Jan 2017

4.46.5

Feb 2017

5.36.4

Mar 2017

4.56.3

Apr 2017

5.06.4

May 2017

5.06.3

Jun 2017

5.06.5

Jul 2017

5.16.3

Aug 2017

5.26.2

Sep 2017

4.56.1

Oct 2017

4.86.5

Nov 2017

5.26.3

Dec 2017

5.26.1

Jan 2018

5.46.3

Feb 2018

5.46.5

Mar 2018

5.46.4

Apr 2018

5.66.5

May 2018

5.66.9

Jun 2018

6.16.4

Jul 2018

5.96.8

Aug 2018

5.86.5

Sep 2018

6.16.4

Oct 2018

5.86.7

Nov 2018

5.86.5

Dec 2018

6.26.3

Jan 2019

6.46.8

Feb 2019

5.76.6

Mar 2019

5.86.7

Apr 2019

5.87.1

May 2019

5.86.6

Jun 2019

5.47.0

Jul 2019

5.56.9

Aug 2019

5.46.9

Sep 2019

5.76.9

Oct 2019

5.66.6

Nov 2019

5.56.5

Dec 2019

5.26.8

Jan 2020

5.26.6

Feb 2020

5.36.5

Mar 2020

3.94.2

Apr 2020

3.84.9

May 2020

6.819.5

Jun 2020

7.017.5

Jul 2020

6.310.6

Aug 2020

6.08.1

Sep 2020

5.98.2

Oct 2020

6.18.5

Nov 2020

5.98.1

Dec 2020

5.45.8

Jan 2021

5.37.1

Feb 2021

6.58.8

Mar 2021

8.08.5

Apr 2021

9.19.5

May 2021

9.09.3

Brood X Cicadas over the History of BLS Data

For readers around several Eastern and Midwest states, you likely know that “Brood X” is the name of the cohort of 17-year cicadas that have made their appearance known, and heard, starting in mid-May 2021. According to the U.S. Forest Service, scientists have been studying cicadas for a couple of centuries, and there are historical reports going back centuries. In fact, in The Iliad, Homer speaks of two elder sages who were “… too old to fight, but they were fluent orators, and sat on the tower like cicadas that chirrup delicately from the boughs of some high tree in a wood.”

A cicada

We can’t find any record of President Chester A. Arthur (who signed the law to create BLS) nor Carroll Wright (the first BLS Commissioner) speaking of cicadas, but is it a coincidence that Brood X appeared just one year after BLS was founded in 1884? Since BLS has lived through 9 appearances of Brood X, let’s take a look at what we reported during those years.

Year of BLS founding in 1884 and Brood X appearances in 1885, 1902, 1919, 1936, 1953, 1970, 1987, 2004, and 2021

Brood X of 1919 was the first to encounter the BLS Consumer Price Index, which provides information back to 1913. Using the CPI Inflation Calculator, you can look at how buying power has changed over time. As the chart below shows, Brood X from 1919 could spend $6.31 and have buying power equal to their great, great, great, great grandchildren spending $100 today. The 1936 cicadas were affected by the Great Depression, with increasing buying power because of deflation. The 1987 cicadas were affected by high inflation rates that occurred after their 1970 ancestors disappeared.

Purchasing power of $100 in January 2021 compared with January of other Brood X years

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

While BLS has reported on the number of workers on employer payrolls since before the 1919 cicadas came out of the ground, consistent data for all states were not available until the late 1940s. That was in time for the 1953 cicadas, which witnessed about 43 million jobs on private nonfarm payrolls. The 1953 cicadas saw about 45 percent of private sector employment in good-producing industries — mining, construction, and manufacturing. Interestingly, cicadas from the groups that followed saw little change in the number of jobs on good-producing payrolls. The peak number in Brood X years was 23 million in 1987. Goods-producing employment in 2021 is just over 20 million. In contrast, payrolls of service-providing industries have soared over the same period, from nearly 24 million in 1953 to just over 100 million today. These service-providing industries include trade, transportation, financial activities, education and health services, restaurants and other hospitality businesses, and many more. The 2021 cicadas have seen that 83 percent of payroll employment is in service-providing industries.

Private-sector employment in goods-producing and service-providing industries, January of Brood X years

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

BLS has been studying productivity since before Brood X of 1902 emerged. The first such study was of “Hand and Machine Labor” in 1898. Consistent measures of labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector date from 1947, in time for the 1953 cicadas. Over the more than 70-year history of these data, the percent change from the previous quarter, at an annual rate, has been negative about 20 percent of the time (based on the first quarter of each year). But perhaps the sound and fury of Brood X has some influence, as 2 out of 5 (40 percent) of the cicada-year changes have been negative. Yes, it’s a small sample, but let’s not discount the cicada effect.

Annualized percent change in nonfarm business sector labor productivity in the first quarter of Brood X years, compared with the previous quarter

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Finally, our flying friends have studied BLS data on pay and know about all our measures of worker pay. The longest consistent series on pay began in 1964, in time for the 1970 cicadas to track average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory employees. The 1987 cicadas saw pay nearly triple from that of their parents, and future generations saw continued increases as well.

Average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector, January of Brood X years

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

BLS is looking forward to providing the latest in labor statistics in 2038, when the children of the 2021 cicadas check out the latest on www.bls.gov. In the meantime, maybe they’ll follow us on Twitter.

Purchasing power of $100 in January 2021 compared with January of other Brood X years
YearPurchasing power

1919

$6.31

1936

5.28

1953

10.17

1970

14.45

1987

42.51

2004

70.80

2021

100.00
Private-sector employment in goods-producing and service-providing industries, January of Brood X years
YearGoods producingService providing

1953

19,721,00023,629,000

1970

22,726,00035,954,000

1987

23,232,00060,401,000

2004

21,715,00087,516,000

2021

20,221,000100,948,000
Annualized percent change in nonfarm business sector labor productivity in the first quarter of Brood X years, compared with the previous quarter
YearAnnualized percent change

1953

3.5%

1970

1.3

1987

-1.8

2004

-1.3

2021

5.4
Average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector, January of Brood X years
YearAverage hourly earnings

1970

$3.31

1987

9.02

2004

15.51

2021

25.14

Employment Trends of Asians and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, so let’s take a closer look at national employment statistics for Asians and for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHPIs). We’ll focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the labor market for these groups.

BLS has been collecting data in its household survey since 2003 on the labor market characteristics of people who identify their race as Asian or NHPI. Looking at historical data, we’ve noticed that the employment–population ratio—the percentage of the population that is employed—is generally higher for Asians and NHPIs than for the U.S. average. The ratio in 2019 was 62.3 percent for Asians and 66.2 percent for NHPIs, well above the national average of 60.8 percent. The greater likelihood of employment among Asians and NHPIs reflects the fact that both groups—particularly NHPIs—are more likely to be ages 25 to 54 than the overall population. People in this age range are more likely to be employed than those in younger and older age groups. Regardless of age, employment declined sharply for Asians and NHPIs in 2020, reflecting the impact of the pandemic.

Employment–population ratio, 2003–20

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

To get a better sense of how Asians and NHPIs fared in the labor market during the pandemic, we compared employment–population ratios for the 12 months before the pandemic with estimates for the 12 months after it started. The following chart shows the decline in the average employment–population ratio for the 12 months ending in February 2021 compared with the 12 months ending in February 2020. The employment–population ratio for NHPIs fell 6.0 percentage points, and the ratio for Asians fell 5.4 percentage points. These compare with a decline of 4.7 percentage points for the overall population.

Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We used the same approach to look at different groups within the Asian population. The employment–population ratio for Asian women declined by 5.7 percentage points from the 12 months before the pandemic to the 12 months following the onset of the pandemic. This was more than the 5.2 percentage point decline for Asian men. Asians age 55 and older had a greater drop in their employment–population ratio (−6.1 percentage points) than did Asians in younger age groups: −5.2 percentage points for Asians ages 25 to 54 and −4.7 percentage points for Asians ages 16 to 24. The decline in the percentage of foreign-born Asians who were employed—6.1 percentage points—was greater than that for native-born Asians (−4.2 percentage points). (Unfortunately, we can’t make these same comparisons for NHPIs because of their small sample size in the survey.)

Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asians, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Asians trace their roots to many different distinct and culturally diverse peoples. Our household survey collects information on seven different Asian groups—Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Other Asian. Of these groups, the percentage point decline in the employment–population ratio for the 12 months after the onset of the pandemic was largest for the Vietnamese (−8.8 percentage points). This likely reflects the large number of Vietnamese workers employed in the other services industry. This industry—particularly the nail salon component, in which Vietnamese workers are especially prevalent—lost much of its employment in the early months of the pandemic, when mandatory business closures, stay-at-home orders, and fear of the illness kept many people from engaging in both labor market and consumer activity. By contrast, employment–population ratios for Asian Indians and for Japanese dropped by 3.4 percentage points and 3.0 percentage points, respectively; these two Asian groups are more likely to be employed in industries that lost smaller proportions of employment, such as professional and business services. Notably, workers in this industry were more likely to telework due to the pandemic than workers employed in other services.

Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asian groups, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

If you want to learn more about how Asians and NHPIs are faring in the labor market, please check out our data on race and ethnicity.

Employment–population ratio, 2003–20
YearTotalAsiansNative Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

2003

62.3%62.4%63.6%

2004

62.363.067.4

2005

62.763.470.2

2006

63.164.270.6

2007

63.064.369.4

2008

62.264.367.8

2009

59.361.261.8

2010

58.559.960.1

2011

58.460.062.2

2012

58.660.163.0

2013

58.661.262.9

2014

59.060.463.5

2015

59.360.462.8

2016

59.760.965.7

2017

60.161.562.9

2018

60.461.664.9

2019

60.862.366.2

2020

56.857.360.8
Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic
GroupPercentage point change

Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

-6.0

Asian

-5.4

Total

-4.7
Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asians, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic
GroupPercentage point change

Total

-5.4

Men

-5.2

Women

-5.7

Age

Ages 16 to 24

-4.7

Ages 25 to 54

-5.2

Age 55 and older

-6.1

Country of birth

Foreign born

-6.1

Native born

-4.2
Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asian groups, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic
GroupPercentage point change

Vietnamese

-8.8

Filipino

-7.6

Korean

-6.7

Other Asian

-5.6

Chinese

-4.9

Asian Indian

-3.4

Japanese

-3.0

Total

-5.4

A New Tool at BLS: Video Data Collection Interview

The pandemic that has gripped the world for over a year has resulted in many challenges for BLS, notably in collecting key economic data from employers and households. It has also brought about innovation, as we were forced to find new ways to do things. We’ve gotten rid of many paper forms; we’ve learned to “sign” documents electronically; and we’ve done our best to remember to unmute in video meetings. Data collection is now almost entirely paperless. It involves more email and web-based interactions, and the latest BLS innovation—the video data collection interview.

Pretend with me that you are peeking in on a recent video interview. BLS Philadelphia Region Field Economist Joseph Wright is the star of this video show. His mission today is to interview a representative from a business for the Producer Price Index (PPI). The PPI measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers for their output. To do that, Joe and his colleagues talk to domestic producers (businesses) to identify products and track selling prices.

Earlier, Joe contacted this business and got permission for video collection. As the scene opens, both Joe and the official at this company (we call these individuals “respondents”) are working from home. Joe has done video collection several times before, and that experience is evident. After he shows his credentials to verify he is legit, he shares his screen to point to information about BLS confidentiality protections and to highlight some PPI data.

View of the webpage on Confidentiality Pledge and Laws at https://www.bls.gov/bls/confidentiality.htm

Thinking about this process, it seems like sharing a few highlights on a screen is much easier than shuffling a bunch of papers while meeting with the respondent in person. Advantage—video.

Next, Joe starts the actual data collection process. He begins with some questions and examples designed to verify the firm’s industry classification. Then the conversation pivots to information about the products produced, where Joe and the respondent clarify things like new formulations, quantities in metric tons, and shipping lingo such as free-on-board. Fortunately, Joe and the respondent speak the same language. In fact, one of the hallmarks of BLS data collection is familiarity with detailed industries, occupations, work processes, and more. We are talking to experts, so it’s best to know our stuff. And Joe clearly does.

The goal of an initial PPI interview like this one is to select a sample of products sold by the business. We also want to get a detailed description of the products so we can follow the correct selling price. Finally, we want to set up the process for the business to easily report updated selling prices each month. From information provided by the respondent, Joe did some quick math and identified a random selection of products to follow, based on sales volume. He confirmed product descriptions, which will be provided back to the respondent when it’s time to update the selling prices. Clearly Joe is a pro, as he made quick work of the entire process.

This respondent’s data will eventually be part of the monthly PPI release, which provides considerable detail on changes in selling prices for a wide range of industries and products. Here’s a look at 12-month changes in the PPI over the past decade. More charts and more details are available on the BLS website.

Chart on Producer Price Index for final demand, 12-month percent changes

Data collection is a tough job. This particular respondent was comfortable with the video process and willing to provide information. It helps that the respondent said more than once that “we use these [BLS data] in our contracts” and that he was “glad to be part of this [since we] use a lot of these indexes.” While many respondents are indeed cooperative, and familiar with BLS data, others are not. Fortunately, BLS field economists are equipped with a marketing toolbox, which includes training in how to work with small and large companies; factsheets and related material that highlight how businesses can use BLS data, for example, in contract escalation; and details on BLS procedures to protect the confidentiality of respondent data. The video data collection interview is the latest tool.

BLS confidentiality procedures deserve extra emphasis. While our goal is to give respondents various data collection options, to make the process as convenient as possible, we never introduce a new collection option without a thorough confidentiality vetting. In the case of video collection, that vetting led to the development of strict standards and detailed procedures. These efforts are designed to ensure respondents of the value of their participation, and the care with which BLS handles their data. Enough said.

At BLS, we see the value in building relationships with respondents, and thus in-person data collection will continue to be part of our toolbox. But we also want to limit respondent burden and be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. As Joe’s example demonstrates, the video data collection interview is an effective option to limit burden and expense while obtaining quality information to support key economic indicators. Even in a post-pandemic world, BLS video data collection is here to stay.

Providing Context for Recent Increases in Gasoline Prices

If you’ve filled your car’s gas tank recently, you may have been surprised at how much more gas costs than it did just a few months ago or in early 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In recent months, gasoline prices have increased sharply and have pushed up overall consumer inflation. We documented the dramatic price declines for petroleum products that occurred in early 2020 in a recent Monthly Labor Review article. The article also documented the partial recovery in prices last summer.

Let’s now look at what has happened with oil and gas prices since we published that article. We’ll see that gasoline prices mostly just recovered from the steep declines experienced early in the pandemic.

The following chart shows the monthly percent change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for gasoline and for all items since October 2020.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes, October 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

After smaller increases in October and November, the CPI gasoline index rose much more rapidly in December and the first 3 months of 2021. Overall, in the 4 months from November to March, gasoline prices increased about 31 percent. Over the same 4 months, the CPI for all items increased 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the increase in gasoline prices as measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) has been larger than the increase in consumer prices. In the last 4 months, the PPI gasoline index increased about 58 percent.

The following chart shows the change in the CPI and PPI gasoline indexes since January 2020.

Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Gasoline prices fell sharply at the start of the pandemic and then partially rebounded through the summer of 2020. The prices that gasoline producers received declined much more at the start of the pandemic than did the prices consumers paid. Producer prices also were slower to recover than consumer prices. The recent increase in gasoline prices continued the recovery from the sharp declines at the start of the pandemic. Through February 2021, consumer prices for gasoline were still down 2.8 percent from January 2020. Producer prices for gasoline had fully recovered the pandemic-related declines by February 2021 and were back to January 2020 levels. In March 2021, consumer and producer prices for gasoline rose sharply and were above their January 2020 levels.

The differences between consumer and producer gasoline prices can be partly explained by larger margins for fuel retailers. Gasoline retailers are often slower to pass increases or decreases in their purchase costs on to consumers because they are uncertain about future costs and because of competition in the retail gasoline market. The PPI for “automotive fuels and lubricants retailing” measures the margin for gasoline retailers. The chart below shows that this margin increased sharply in March and April 2020 when oil prices dropped. The margin then decreased over the summer months as oil prices increased. In March 2021, retail gasoline margins were still 16.6 percent above January 2020 levels, in seasonally unadjusted terms.

Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Gasoline prices tend to be volatile, and large moves, such as this winter’s, occur often. Consumer gasoline prices rose 24.7 percent in the first 3 months of 2021. Since 2001, the CPI gasoline index has had six increases that large or larger in 3 months. The most recent instance of a larger increase over 3 months was a 26.4-percent increase from May to August 2009.

Over the past 4 months, the sharp rise in gasoline prices has contributed to increasing overall prices as measured by the CPI for all items. In each of the last 4 months, half or more of the monthly increase in the all-items index was due to the increase in gasoline prices. This means that, if the price of gasoline had been unchanged in each of these months, the overall CPI would have increased by less than half of the 1.5-percent increase over this period.

One way to strip out the effects of gasoline prices on overall prices is to look at prices for all items less energy. The following chart shows the monthly change in the CPI for all item and the CPI for all items less energy.

Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

From July through December 2020, the indexes moved similarly each month. That means energy price changes were close to the price changes of other items. The two indexes have diverged in the last 3 months, however, with the index for all items less energy increasing much less than the index for all items.

Crude oil prices have a large effect on gasoline prices. The following chart shows the changes in the PPI for crude petroleum and in the Import Price Index for crude petroleum since January 2020. The PPI measures price changes for domestic producers of crude oil, while the Import Price Index tracks price changes for oil purchased from foreign producers.

Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum, January 2020 to March 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Overall, producer prices and import prices for crude oil track closely together. Both declined sharply as the COVID-19 pandemic began and partly recovered through the early fall. From November 2020 to March 2021, both had large increases—60.3 percent for the PPI and 46.5 percent for import prices—and now exceed their January 2020 levels.

Market analysis by the Energy Information Administration identifies several contributors to recent oil and gas price increases. One is optimism over the economic recovery from the pandemic and expectations of increased energy demand as more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Another is the continued cooperation among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries to limit crude oil production. Finally, in February, weather-related supply disruptions also contributed to price increases.

Although gasoline prices have increased sharply in recent months and have contributed to increases in overall consumer prices, gasoline prices are only just recovering January 2020 levels. Gasoline makes up only about 3 percent of the market basket for the CPI, and its share has been declining. Gasoline still is an important driver of changes in the overall index because of frequent large fluctuations in gas prices. Price changes in gasoline and crude oil can also affect the prices of other items because gas and oil are important for producing many goods and services.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes
MonthGasoline, all typesAll items

Oct 2020

0.70.1

Nov 2020

0.50.2

Dec 2020

5.20.2

Jan 2021

7.40.3

Feb 2021

6.40.4

Mar 2021

9.10.6
Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted
MonthCPI for gasolinePPI for gasoline

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

95.76697.003

Mar 2020

86.60471.609

Apr 2020

69.95532.440

May 2020

66.51844.322

Jun 2020

73.41061.409

Jul 2020

76.92866.193

Aug 2020

78.57667.192

Sep 2020

79.89167.613

Oct 2020

80.48268.559

Nov 2020

80.86669.085

Dec 2020

85.06678.181

Jan 2021

91.36488.801

Feb 2021

97.221100.421

Mar 2021

106.070109.253
Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing
MonthIndex

Jan 2020

100.000

Feb 2020

102.652

Mar 2020

127.281

Apr 2020

169.753

May 2020

154.292

Jun 2020

135.506

Jul 2020

128.449

Aug 2020

124.180

Sep 2020

127.506

Oct 2020

129.438

Nov 2020

127.416

Dec 2020

118.292

Jan 2021

121.798

Feb 2021

118.292

Mar 2021

116.629
Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted
MonthAll itemsAll items less energy

Jan 2020

0.20.2

Feb 2020

0.10.2

Mar 2020

-0.30.0

Apr 2020

-0.7-0.1

May 2020

-0.10.0

Jun 2020

0.50.3

Jul 2020

0.50.4

Aug 2020

0.40.3

Sep 2020

0.20.2

Oct 2020

0.10.1

Nov 2020

0.20.1

Dec 2020

0.20.1

Jan 2021

0.30.0

Feb 2021

0.40.1

Mar 2021

0.60.3
Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum
MonthProducer Price Index for crude petroleumImport Price Index for crude petroleum

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

85.69689.067

Mar 2020

56.58558.776

Apr 2020

28.98637.212

May 2020

39.38244.333

Jun 2020

59.42058.977

Jul 2020

63.01271.615

Aug 2020

65.78473.621

Sep 2020

63.70569.509

Oct 2020

64.77669.408

Nov 2020

67.29772.116

Dec 2020

79.89979.840

Jan 2021

89.47787.563

Feb 2021

97.16498.897

Mar 2021

107.876105.617