Let’s Celebrate the Productive U.S. Workforce

Earlier this month our nation celebrated Labor Day. We celebrate Labor Day for many good reasons, but one of the best is to appreciate, even for just one day, how amazingly productive our nation’s workforce is. As we shop online or in stores, we rarely stop to think about the skills and effort it takes to produce our goods and services. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that productivity and the progress we have seen in the last few years.

Indeed, productivity of labor is at the heart of the American economy. How much workers produce for each hour they labor and how efficiently they use resources determines the pace of economic growth and the volume of goods that supply everyone (workers included) with the products and services that shape our daily lives. Growing productivity means that our standard of living very likely is improving.

Our workers are very productive. On average, each U.S. worker produced goods and services worth $129,755 last year. That’s compared with the next largest world economies: Germany at $99,377; the United Kingdom at $93,226; Japan at $78,615; China at $32,553; and India at $19,555.

Despite our great reliance on rising productivity to attain the good things of life, academics and researchers still marvel at the mysteries that surround the subject. What drives productivity change? What are the key factors behind these international differences in output per worker?

For example, does the quality of labor alone determine the rate of productivity growth? It is certainly a component of what drives labor productivity, although some countries have high educational and training levels but low productivity per worker. Labor quality has been steadily rising in the United States, but we don’t know the impact on productivity as the baby boomers retire and are replaced.

What is the right mix of labor and technology needed for changing the productivity growth rate? How can we measure the value of the dignity of work, or the personal and social value that work yields? And, what is the role of technical knowledge and product design in determining the productivity of labor?

Then there’s the mysterious role of innovation. Economists think they know that invention and scientific breakthroughs can make massive changes to productivity. However, which innovations transform productivity, and have all the low-lying fruits of productivity enhancement already been harvested?

Despite our strong international showing, analysts who watch these data may be a tad bit concerned with the sluggishness in U.S. productivity growth over the past 10 years. Since 2011, the rate of growth in labor productivity has slowed to one-third of the pace shown between 2000 and 2008, despite acceleration in the past 2 years. Even when we broaden the concept of productivity to include the output attributable to the combination of labor and other productive factors (also known as multifactor productivity), the rate of growth is still one-third of the pace it was in the first decade of this century.

Even with a subsidence in the growth rate, it is worth noting that both labor input and output are on the rise. Since the start of the current business cycle expansion in 2009, the rate of growth in labor input has been five times what it was prior to the Great Recession during the previous expansion.

Output has also grown steadily, but at a slower rate than hours. Because labor productivity is the quotient of output divided by hours, productivity can slow even when both components are rising. The relationship between the relative growth of output and hours is one of the many features that makes productivity both challenging and fascinating to study.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics engages with an extensive network of researchers in and out of the academic community whose mission is, like ours, to better understand and measure the productivity of the U.S. labor force. Labor productivity is an amazing subject because it incorporates so many facets of the nation’s economy into one statistic. By peeling back layers and looking at the details behind the summary number, we can gain valuable insight on the hours and output of our nation’s workforce. We will continue to produce and provide context for these valuable statistics that help tell the story of America’s workers.

That said, we should never lose sight of the big picture. America’s workers lead the world in their capacity to create the goods and services that define our economy and improve our lives. And that, certainly, is something great to celebrate!

Labor Day 2019 Fast Facts

I have been Commissioner of Labor Statistics for 5 months now, and I continue to be amazed by the range and quality of data we publish about the U.S. labor market and the well-being of American workers. As we like to say at BLS, we really do have a stat for that! We won’t rest on what we have done, however. We continue to strive for more data and better data to help workers, jobseekers, students, businesses, and policymakers make informed decisions. Labor Day is a good time to reflect on where we are. This year is the 125th anniversary of celebrating Labor Day as a national holiday. Before you set out to enjoy the long holiday weekend, take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled on the current picture of our labor market.

Working

Working or Looking for Work

  • The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 63.0 percent in July 2019. The rate had trended down from the 2000s through the early 2010s, but it has remained fairly steady since 2014.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July. In April and May, the rate hit its lowest point, 3.6 percent, since 1969.
  • In July, there were 1.2 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 19.2 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share in late 2006.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 12.8 percent in July 2019, while the rates were 3.4 percent for both adult women and adult men. The unemployment rate was 6.0 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 4.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 2.8 percent for Asians, and 3.3 percent for Whites.

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.6 percent from July 2018 to July 2019. After adjusting for inflation in consumer prices, real average weekly earnings were up 0.8 percent during this period.
  • Civilian compensation (wage and benefit) costs increased 2.7 percent in June 2019 from a year earlier. After adjusting for inflation, real compensation costs rose 1.1 percent over the year.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to most private industry workers. The access rates in March 2018 were 71 percent for sick leave, 77 percent for vacation, and 78 percent for holidays.
  • About 91 percent of civilian workers with access to paid holidays receive Labor Day as a paid holiday.
  • In March 2018, civilian workers with employer-provided medical plans paid 20 percent of the cost of medical care premiums for single coverage and 32 percent for family coverage.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity—output per hour worked—in the U.S. nonfarm business sector grew 1.8 percent from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2019.
  • Some industries had much faster growth in 2018, including electronic shopping and mail-order houses (10.6 percent) and wireless telecommunications carriers (10.1 percent).
  • Multifactor productivity in the private nonfarm business sector rose 1.0 percent in 2018. That growth is 0.2 percentage point higher than the average annual rate of 0.8 percent from 1987 to 2018.

Safety and Health

Unionization

  • The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.

Work Stoppages

  • In the first 7 months of 2019, there have been 307,500 workers involved in major work stoppages that began this year. (Major work stoppages are strikes or lockouts that involve 1,000 or more workers and last one full shift or longer.) For all of 2018, there were 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages, the largest number since 1986, when about 533,100 workers were involved.
  • There have been 15 work stoppages beginning in 2019. For all of 2018, 20 work stoppages began during the year.

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 22 percent of employment in 2018. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
  • For 18 of the 30 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2016 and 2026, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry. Be sure to check out our updated employment projections, covering 2018 to 2028, that we will publish September 4!

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that! Want to learn more? Follow us on Twitter @BLS_gov.

What is “Benchmarking” of Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Data?

BLS has released the “preliminary benchmark” information for the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, the source of monthly information on jobs.

You know what a bench is

Image of a park bench

and you know what a mark is,

Image of a checkmark

but what pray tell is a benchmark? And what does this preliminary benchmark tell us?

So as not to bury the lead, I’ll let you know that this year’s preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision is a bit bigger than it has been in the last few years. Our preliminary estimate indicates a downward adjustment to March 2019 total nonfarm employment of 501,000. Still, that estimated revision is only -0.3 percent of nonfarm employment. In most years our monthly employment survey has done a good job at estimating the total number of payroll jobs. More details on that below. This year our survey estimates are off more than we would like. Our goal is to provide estimates that are excellent and not just good or pretty good, and that’s why we benchmark the survey data each year.

What is benchmarking and why do we do it?

The CES is a monthly survey of approximately 142,000 businesses and government agencies composed of approximately 689,000 individual worksites. As with all sample-based surveys, CES estimates are subject to sampling error. This means that while we work hard to ensure those 689,000 worksites represent all 10 million worksites in the country, sometimes our sample may not perfectly reflect all worksites. So the monthly CES estimates aren’t exactly the same as if we had counted employment from all 10 million worksites each month. To fix this problem, we “benchmark” the CES data to an actual count of all employees, information that’s only available several months after the initial CES data are published.

In essence, we produce employment information really quickly from a sample of employers, then anchor that information to a complete count of employment once a year.

The primary source of the CES sample is the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program, which collects employment and wage data from states’ unemployment insurance tax systems. This is also the main source of the complete count of employment used in the benchmark process. QCEW data are typically available about 5 months after the end of each quarter.

Each year, we re-anchor the sample-based employment estimates to these full population counts for March of the prior year. This process—which we call benchmarking—improves the accuracy of the CES data. That’s because the population counts are not subject to the sampling and modeling errors that may occur with the CES monthly estimates. Since the CES data are re-anchored to March of the last year, CES estimates are typically revised from April of the year prior up to the March benchmark. Then estimates from the benchmark forward to December are revised to reflect the new March employment level.

We will publish the final benchmark revision in February 2020 and will incorporate revisions to data from April 2018 to December 2019. (Thus, we’re not showing a 2019 number in graph and table below). On August 21, BLS released a first look at what this revision will be—what we call the “preliminary benchmark.” This preliminary benchmark gives us an idea of what the revised nonfarm employment estimates for March 2019 will be.

The size of the national benchmark revision is a measure of the accuracy of the CES estimates, and we take pride that these revisions are typically small.

Chart showing differences in nonfarm employment after benchmarking, 2009–18

For total employment nationwide, the absolute annual benchmark revision has averaged about 0.2 percent over the past decade, with a range from −0.7 percent to +0.3 percent.

The following table shows the total payroll employment estimated from the CES before and after the benchmark over the past 10 years. For example, pre-benchmark employment for 2018 was 147.4 million; post-benchmark employment was also 147.4 million.

Nonfarm employment estimates before and after benchmarking, March 2009–March 2018
Year Level before benchmark Level after benchmark Difference Percent difference
2009 132,077,000 131,175,000 -902,000 –0.7
2010 128,958,000 128,584,000 -374,000 –0.3
2011 129,899,000 130,061,000 162,000 0.1
2012 132,081,000 132,505,000 424,000 0.3
2013 134,570,000 134,917,000 347,000 0.3
2014 137,147,000 137,214,000 67,000 <0.05
2015 140,298,000 140,099,000 -199,000 –0.1
2016 142,895,000 142,814,000 -81,000 –0.1
2017 144,940,000 145,078,000 138,000 0.1
2018 147,384,000 147,368,000 -16,000 <-0.05

The 2019 preliminary benchmark revision is following the same pattern, with an estimated difference of -0.3 percent. We provide this first look at the benchmark revision to give data users a sense of what we are seeing in the data. The final benchmark may be a little different—could be higher, could be lower. But based on recent experience, we are confident the benchmark released next February will show only a moderate difference from what we’ve been publishing each month and will validate the accuracy of our monthly CES estimates.

Want to know more? See our Current Employment Statistics webpage, send us an email, or call (202) 691-6555.

Building a Business? Start Here

You have an idea.

It’s time to get serious about it.

Entrepreneurial drive got you to this point, but now it’s time to chart a plan. For that you need a reliable overview of the factors that can lead to a flourishing business — or work against it.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Business Builder application is designed to provide small business owners with key data to give them a clear-eyed view of their potential market. This data-mapping tool combines data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Economic Census, and County Business Patterns, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

For version 2.6 of the tool, released this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has collaborated with the Census Bureau to include data from our Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). QCEW is based on quarterly mandatory reports to the Unemployment Insurance systems in each state, covering more than 95 percent of the jobs in the U.S. economy. It is the most complete and current source of data on employment and wages at a detailed geographic and industry level.

To help illustrate why this tool is so useful, and why the data from the QCEW broadens that usefulness, I’ll make up an example.

Ever since you can remember, your grandmother, who was born and raised just outside of Naples, has fed you a type of pizza full of unusual flavors that has never been equaled in all your travels. As you grew and came into your own as a cook, she entrusted you with her secret knowledge, like a magician passing along her repertoire to a favored protégé.

Ever since, you’ve dreamed of sharing the pleasures of that delicacy with the world, and you’re going to start with a pizzeria somewhere near your home in Olympia, Washington. You may ask yourself: What exactly does the restaurant market look like in Olympia? Who are my potential customers? What kind of wages do they earn?

The Census Business Builder is a good place to start.

Census Business Builder home screen

Here, you can enter the type of establishment you’d like to research, as well as the area where you intend to do business. You find that data are not available for Olympia, but knowing that Olympia is the county seat, you are able to search in Thurston County.

The resulting map provides data on income, education, wages, and perhaps most importantly for you, the number of similar establishments in the area – also known as your competition.

Map of Thurston County, Washington, showing Census Business Builder search results

With the new QCEW data, another crucial batch of information is at your fingertips: more up-to-date establishment counts, employment numbers, and wages. It also provides an important metric known as the location quotient. This measure lets you compare an industry’s employment concentration or wages in your search area with the country as a whole. Will you be able to hire enough staff? What might you need to pay them if you want the best in the business?

Map of Thurston County, Washington, showing Census Business Builder search results with QCEW location quotient

The possibilities advance from this example as far as your entrepreneurial mind wants to take them. It is you, after all, who will transform these numbers into the real-world business that fulfills your vision. Our job as public servants is to give you the most relevant tools to realize that transformation. We’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Census Bureau to bring you this vital information in this user-friendly format.

The Census Business Builder is updated twice per year using feedback that comes from customers and stakeholders, including small business owners, trade associations and other government agencies. The update also adds QCEW data into the Regional Analyst version of the tool, which is designed for chambers of commerce and regional planning staff who need a broad portrait of the people and businesses in their area. The December release, for example, will add more QCEW features to the Regional Analyst version.

BLS publishes data from the QCEW program every quarter in the County Employment and Wages news release. QCEW data are available through our Open Data Access and the QCEW Databases.

Why This Counts: Measuring Occupational Requirements

You probably know that BLS publishes data and analysis about employment, unemployment, job openings, earnings, productivity, occupational safety and health, and more. But did you know we also publish information about how often workers have to lift objects; the maximum weight they lift or carry; whether they work in extreme heat or cold; and how much training and experience they need for a job? We call these characteristics “occupational requirements.”

What are occupational requirements?

The Occupational Requirements Survey provides information about the requirements of jobs:

  • Physical demands of work, such as keyboarding, reaching overhead, lifting or carrying
  • Environmental conditions, such as extreme heat, exposure to outdoors, proximity to moving parts
  • Education, training, and experience requirements, such as prior work experience, on-the-job training, and license requirements
  • Cognitive and mental requirements, such as interaction with other people, independence of work, and the amount of review

How did BLS get into doing this survey?

This survey is one of our newest statistical programs; we first published data on December 1, 2016.

The Social Security Administration asked us to help them obtain accurate and current data to use in their disability programs. They are developing an Occupational Information System, which will use data from the Occupational Requirements Survey. That means the survey is crucial for Social Security to manage their disability programs fairly and efficiently.

How can I use occupational requirements information?

Users of Occupational Requirements Survey data include:

  • Researchers exploring occupational change
  • Jobseekers and students
  • Government agencies evaluating skill gaps
  • People with disabilities and their advocates

Let’s discuss a couple of examples to show you what I mean.

Educational requirements

You may want to know the minimum formal education requirements for jobs. The survey has a stat for that! In 2018, a high school diploma was required for jobs covering 40.7 percent of workers, while 17.9 percent had a bachelor’s degree requirement. The chart below shows the percent of jobs by minimum education requirement.

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018

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

We have more information on education, training, and experience. The 2018 news release showed that on-the-job training was required for about 77 percent of workers, and the average duration was 34 days.

We also have information on preparation time, which includes minimum formal education, training, and work experience a typical worker needs to perform a job. Preparation time between 4 hours and 1 month was required for 31.5 percent of workers.

Environmental Conditions

Is the noise level at your workplace closer to a library (quiet) or a rock concert (very loud)? For some jobseekers, understanding the noise level and other environmental conditions might be extremely important as they evaluate job options. The chart below provides examples of the noise intensity in different occupations.

Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018

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

Examples of work environments with different noise intensity levels include:

  • Quiet: private office, a golf course, or art museum
  • Moderate: department stores, business office, or fast food restaurant
  • Loud: manufacturing plant, atop large earth moving equipment, or jobs next to the highway
  • Very loud: rock concert venues, working with jack hammers, or rocket testing areas

How do we collect job requirement data?

To collect job requirement data, our field economists ask business owners, human resource professionals, worker safety officers, and supervisors to collect requirements of work. Field economists do not use paper or online questionnaires to collect these data; instead, they rely on a conversational interviews and descriptive documents, such as task lists, to collect information on occupational requirements.

How are we improving the survey?

Survey scope: Since it began, we have continued to refine the survey to improve its accuracy. In the third year of collection, we redefined the survey scope to focus on critical job functions—that is, the reason the job exists.

Survey content: Beginning with the current sample in collection, we added questions about cognitive and mental requirements. The Social Security Administration asked for this change so we can provide information on the requirements for workers to adapt to changes in the pace of work, solve problems, and interact with others.

Sample: The survey sample is collected over a 5-year period. That will provide the large amount of data necessary to publish information about detailed occupations. We have revised the sampling process to ensure we collect information about less common occupations.

Website: We recently improved the web layout to make it easier for users to find the data they want.

Where is more information?

We have data for occupational groups and occupations through the Occupational Profiles. All data are available through the public data tools. For concepts, methods, and history of the survey see the Handbook of Methods or visit our homepage.

Let us know if you have questions or comments about occupational requirements:

  • Email
  • Phone: (202) 691-6199

Use these gold-standard data to learn more about your job requirements or to find out about new ones. Whatever your occupational requirements question, “We have a stat for that!”

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018
Education requirement Percent
No minimum education requirement 31.5%
High school diploma 40.7
Associate’s degree 3.8
Associate’s vocational degree 2.1
Bachelor’s degree 17.9
Master’s degree 2.3
Professional degree 0.9
Doctorate degree 0.5
Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018
Occupation Quiet Moderate Loud
Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists 49.0% 51.0%
Computer programmers 60.1
Construction laborers 48.6 51.4
Electricians 49.0 51.0
Highway maintenance workers 46.2 53.8
Home health aides 54.1 45.9
Library technicians 56.0
Medical transcriptionists 68.7
Paralegals and legal assistants 66.5 33.5
Welders, cutters, and welder fitters 48.2 50.9