Diagnosing “Grey’s Anatomy” with 5 doses of BLS data

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Cross, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrote this post.

A television series that blends the professional and personal stories of doctors, “Grey’s Anatomy” is one of America’s most-watched medical dramas. You may know everything there is to know about McDreamy and McSteamy, but there’s still plenty to learn about other facets of the show.

Here are 5 facts from BLS related to “Grey’s Anatomy.”

  1. The drama is set in a fictional hospital in Seattle, Washington. According to data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were 34 general medical and surgical hospitals in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington, metropolitan statistical area in 2016.

Artistic image of doctors and a patient in an operating room.

  1. The show’s doctors and nurses rarely discuss their income or wages, but data from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey offer clues. Those estimates show an average annual wage of $90,780 in May 2016 for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington, metropolitan statistical area. That was more than the average annual wage of $79,160 for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations nationally.

Artistic image of a medical chart, stethoscope, calculator, mobile phone, and money.

  1. The series has been praised for its racially diverse cast, but that small-screen diversity doesn’t always match occupational reality. According to the Current Population Survey, 71.6 percent of employed physicians and surgeons in 2016 were White, which is about on par with the current “Grey’s Anatomy” cast. But 7.5 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States were Black or African American and 19.3 percent were Asian, compared with about 31 percent and 0 percent, respectively, in the current cast. Similarly, 38.2 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States in 2016 were women, while around half of the drama’s main characters are women.

An artistic image of a diverse group of six doctors.

  1. The show’s writers seem keen on killing off its characters in dramatic fashion. Most of those casualties have involved plot lines away from the hospital, but the few that have occurred onsite may imitate real life. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 7 of the 11 on-the-job fatal injuries for physicians and surgeons nationwide in 2015 were due to intentional violence by other people or self-inflicted injury.

An artistic image of a gravestone with flowers.

  1. Although some characters have met a bleak end, new ones are always being added to the series. Planning for new workers to fill openings may be grounded in fact: Employment Projections data show that about 290,000 job openings for physicians and surgeons are expected between 2014 and 2024. About 190,700 of those openings are projected to replace workers who leave the occupation permanently.

An artistic image of a hospital, ambulance, and medical helicopter.

Most Dangerous Jobs?

TV shows like Dangerous Jobs, Deadliest Job Interview, Ax Men, and Deadliest Catch vividly portray some of the most dangerous jobs people have. Here at the Bureau of Labor Statistics we produce data about dangers in the workplace, or workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

Our list of occupations with high fatal injury rates (on page 19) is often used externally as a list of the “most dangerous” jobs. However, at BLS we strongly believe there is no one measure that tells which job is the most dangerous. Why is that?

A graphic showing the 3 occupations with the highest death rates.

For starters, there is no universal definition of “dangerous” or “hazardous.” There are many other elements that factor into any definition of a “dangerous job,” such as the likelihood of incurring a nonfatal injury, the potential severity of that nonfatal injury, the safety precautions necessary to perform the job, and the physical and mental demands of the job.

It’s also difficult to accurately measure fatal injury rates for occupations with fewer workers.

BLS has certain minimum thresholds that must be met for a fatal injury rate to be published. So, fatal injury rates are not calculated for many occupations that have a relatively small number of fatal work injuries and employment.

A graphic showing the 3 occupations with the highest number of deaths.

Take the occupation elephant trainer*, for instance. Because few workers are employed as elephant trainers, a small number of fatal injuries to elephant trainers would make the fatal injury rate extremely high for a single year, despite their low number of deaths. On the other hand, in most years, this occupation incurs no deaths, rendering their fatality rate 0 and ranking them among the least at risk for incurring a fatal injury.

BLS provides the data to help people, from policymakers to businesses and workers, better understand hazards in the workplace. However, we can only talk about what our data show, such as the number of deaths and fatal injury rates of different occupations. We have to leave it to others to analyze or rank the danger of particular jobs.

*“Elephant trainer” is a hypothetical occupational classification. The classification BLS uses groups these workers with either “artists and performers” or “animal caretakers,” both of which include many more people than just elephant trainers.

Thinking about Summer Jobs

It’s the last few days of school for many high schoolers, and college students have already started their summer break. Time to look for a summer job? Or maybe not. According to information from our Current Population Survey, fewer than half (43.2 percent) of teenagers ages 16–19 participated in the labor force in July 2016, meaning they either worked or were actively looking for work.

This is a sharp contrast from my own summer experience 40 years earlier, when I was either looking for opportunities to get out of the house and make some money, or it was made clear by my mom and dad that I wouldn’t be sitting around the house all summer. Apparently my experience wasn’t unique, as the labor force participation rate among 16–19 year-olds in July 1978 was 71.8 percent.

A chart showing labor force participation rates of 16-19 year-olds and 20-24 year-olds in July from 1948 to 2016.

Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

Yes, kids worked in the summer. And what were we doing? You name it.

My buddy down the street delivered newspapers, winter and summer. You may have heard of a newspaper; it’s kind of like printing the entire Internet every day on grey paper. And it was typically delivered by kids on bicycles—twice a day where I grew up. My father enjoyed the afternoon newspaper and an adult beverage when he came home from work every day. Afternoon newspapers included partial box scores for day baseball games, as well as noon stock prices from Wall Street.

And the newspaper was the source of my first summer job. Every summer, the local newspaper would let kids place free want ads. You may have heard of want ads; it’s kind of like Craigslist on grey paper. Kids would advertise to babysit, do chores, mow the lawn, or any other kind of service. My jack-of-all-trades ad got me several jobs helping older folks clean out basements, attics, and assorted other overgrown spaces. It was hard work; I definitely earned my pay.

A graphic showing the top 10 industries employing 16-19 year-olds n July 2016.

I worked at the local cheese factory one summer, or should I say part of the summer. The smell wasn’t very pleasant. I spent several summers as a cafeteria worker, mostly working the cash register but occasionally serving food as well. A key skill needed to keep the cafeteria line moving was the ability to make change. In those days, the cash register didn’t tell you how much change to provide. In fact, at the end of each shift I had to reconcile my till against the day’s receipts. I quickly learned to provide the proper change lest I had to dig it out of my own pocket. And under the heading of “employee benefits,” I got free lunch every day, including ice cream.

And then there were the psych experiments. I lived near a university that was always looking for “subjects” for their experiments. They were mostly cognitive activities, like grouping items into categories. Only occasionally were there wires attached to my head. These activities might be considered an early version of a gig job, as they were typically scheduled at random times and always paid in cash. (There was no Venmo back then.) And yes, I reported every dime on my tax return.

I suspect summer jobs have changed over the years. I hear of kids getting internships to build skills and advance their future careers. And many students are spending their summers in school, or practicing sports, or in specialized programs to build skills, like computer programming.

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a special report on youth employment. We will release the 2017 report on August 16.


Labor force participation rates of young people in July 1948–2016, not seasonally adjusted
Year Ages 16 to 19 Ages 20 to 24
1948 65.5 66.7
1949 63.5 68.2
1950 63.2 66.1
1951 65.2 66.4
1952 63.5 63.9
1953 61.5 62.7
1954 59.5 63.8
1955 61.0 64.5
1956 65.5 66.5
1957 64.2 67.6
1958 60.3 67.5
1959 59.8 66.3
1960 61.3 68.0
1961 61.2 66.9
1962 60.5 68.0
1963 58.8 68.4
1964 57.7 68.8
1965 60.9 69.9
1966 64.4 69.2
1967 64.9 70.6
1968 64.8 70.8
1969 65.5 71.7
1970 64.5 72.8
1971 65.1 72.4
1972 65.7 74.3
1973 67.3 76.1
1974 68.5 77.3
1975 67.9 77.5
1976 68.8 78.8
1977 69.5 79.1
1978 71.8 80.5
1979 70.9 81.2
1980 70.7 80.8
1981 67.9 81.0
1982 66.9 80.7
1983 67.8 81.3
1984 68.9 81.6
1985 69.6 81.4
1986 68.5 82.7
1987 67.6 82.9
1988 69.8 82.4
1989 69.6 83.8
1990 66.5 81.7
1991 64.4 80.4
1992 65.0 81.7
1993 65.1 81.5
1994 65.4 80.9
1995 66.6 80.5
1996 64.8 80.6
1997 63.6 81.2
1998 63.9 80.7
1999 62.9 81.3
2000 61.8 80.2
2001 60.3 79.4
2002 57.5 79.3
2003 53.7 78.3
2004 53.6 78.1
2005 53.0 77.7
2006 53.5 77.5
2007 50.0 77.5
2008 49.6 78.1
2009 46.5 76.7
2010 42.6 74.7
2011 41.6 73.5
2012 43.4 73.8
2013 43.3 73.6
2014 42.3 74.2
2015 41.3 74.1
2016 43.2 73.1

By the Numbers: Spending Habits of Older Americans

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Ann C. Foster, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

An image depicting the different items older and younger households spend their money on.

It’s no secret that people’s needs and spending habits change over time. For Older Americans Month, we took a look into the data to highlight some of the spending changes. Check out these Consumer Expenditure Survey fast facts and see how your spending stacks up to that of the older generation:

  • Older households are more apt to be homeowners (79 percent) than younger households (57 percent). Please note: By “older households,” we mean those with a reference person (often the principal homeowner or renter) 65 years and older, and by “younger households” we mean those with a reference person under 65 years.
  • Housing is the greatest expense, both in dollar amount ($15,529) and as a share of the household budget (34.8 percent) among older households.
  • Older and younger households are similar in that 85 percent of older households and 88 percent of younger households own or lease at least one vehicle.
  • Transportation expenses among older households, however, are lower in dollar amount ($6,846) and as a share of the household budget (15.3 percent) compared with younger households ($10,310 and 17.4 percent, respectively). That’s probably because older households have fewer earners and would be less likely to have job-related transportation costs.
  • Because older households have fewer earners, pensions and Social Security costs are much lower in dollar amount ($2,401) and as a share of the household budget (5.4 percent) among older households compared with younger households ($7,118 and 12 percent).
  • Out-of-pocket healthcare expenses are higher in dollar amount ($5,766) and as a share of the household budget (12.9 percent) among older households compared with younger households ($3,912 and 6.6 percent).
  • Clothing is often a job-related expense that should decrease when household members retire. This could be one reason clothing expenses are lower among older households ($1,060 and 2.4 percent) than younger households ($2,079 and 3.5 percent).
  • Cash contributions (everything from charitable donations to child support payments) among older households are higher: $2,287 and 5.1 percent, compared with $1,676 and 2.8 percent for younger households.
  • Social Security, private pension and government retirement payments account for more than half (51.3 percent or $23,912) of the pretax income of older households. Among younger households these sources account for only 3.8 percent ($2,900) of pretax income.

Why This Counts: How the Consumer Price Index Affects You

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Steve Reed, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Every month, Debi Bertram, an economic assistant in our Philadelphia region, checks the price of milk at a local grocery store. She also goes to several stores to check the prices of items such as toothpaste, sports equipment, and appliances. You may not know Debi—or any of the men and women who collect data for the Bureau of Labor Statistics—but their findings have a real impact on your life.

Among other things, the data are used for making changes in the federal income tax structure and providing cost-of-living wage adjustments for millions of American workers. Additionally, the president, Congress, and the Federal Reserve Board use trends in the data to inform fiscal and monetary policies.

How does it work? BLS data collectors visit or call thousands of locations across the country, from grocery stores to doctors’ offices, to get the prices of about 80,000 different items every month. The data help BLS compile the Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change over time in prices consumers pay for a market basket of goods and services. It is the key measure of consumer inflation in the U.S. economy.

Just got paid

Person's Hand Giving CheckIt’s very possible the CPI helps determine how big your paycheck is. Many employers use the CPI, formally or informally, to decide how much of a cost-of-living raise to give employees. Additionally, many states index their minimum wage by the overall CPI increase. The CPI helps determine how much comes out of your paycheck too, as the IRS uses it to adjust tax bracket thresholds. And many states use CPI data to calculate and adjust workers’ compensation payments.


The check’s in the mail

Woman inserting letter into a mailboxMailing a birthday card? The CPI helps determine how much it costs. The Postal Regulatory Commission uses CPI data in the decision about price increases for stamps and postal fees.





Back to school

Smiling student eating her lunch.The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services uses CPI data to determine the annual payments and rate adjustments for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The CPI is also consulted to adjust thresholds for eligibility to these programs.





Got to pay the rent

Hand holding money with a house in the background.The CPI may even affect where you live. Many landlords tie rent changes to CPI increases; in some cities rent increases for some properties cannot exceed the increase in the CPI. The CPI may also come into play if you want to rent government facilities; the CPI for rent is used to adjust fees for using federal facilities.

You can find out more about how the CPI affects your economic life from the CPI webpage.