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Recalibrating the Jobs Thermometer

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is responsible for measuring labor market activity. Each month BLS releases some of the most up-to-date measures of economic health in The Employment Situation, often called “the jobs report.” We also release the Commissioner’s statement each month at the same time as the jobs report.

Most of the attention focuses on the headline numbers—how many jobs were added (or lost) that month and did the unemployment rate change? However, with the release of January data each February, we make some yearly updates to improve the accuracy of the numbers. In our survey of households, which is the source for the unemployment rate and other measures, we update the U.S. population totals to reflect the latest information about births, deaths, and international migration. In our survey of nonfarm establishments, which is the source of the jobs count, we make our annual benchmark revisions. Today I’m going to focus on the establishment data.

Each month, the establishment program surveys a sample of businesses and governments around the country. The survey asks how many people worked or received pay for the pay period that included the 12th of the month. While the establishment sample is large, covering about one-third of all nonfarm jobs, the employment changes reported each month are still subject to revisions. Monthly revisions result from more establishments reporting their numbers or correcting previous reports, and from updated information about seasonal employment patterns.

The establishment survey also benefits from another source of data, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. That is a nearly complete count of all establishments, although it is available with a delay of about 6 months. A full count of employment helps us in several ways. We use the data to measure the error associated with the establishment survey. This way data users don’t have to guess how accurate the monthly employment data are. We have a stat for that! In case you are wondering, the data are very accurate. Annual benchmark revisions (which I will explain in a moment) have averaged only 0.3 percent in absolute terms over the past 10 years.

Besides measuring error, once a year we realign the sample-based estimates with the full count of employment. We call this “benchmarking.” This realignment makes sure the employment levels do not stray too far from the “truth” over time. (For several reasons that I won’t go into right now, the establishment survey employment totals will not exactly equal employment totals from the full counts. If you really want to know the details, you can read more about benchmarking, but remember I tried to spare you.)

During this annual benchmarking, we also introduce other changes to the survey. Sometimes we update the industry classification, like we will this year. We also use new information to update the statistical model that accounts for business births and deaths. We review the establishment sample for size, coverage, and response rates, and we may drop some series if the data quality doesn’t meet our standards. We also update the models and information used in seasonal adjustment.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on during this annual updating. All establishment data, including employment, hours, and earnings, are subject to adjustment. I hope this brief explanation and the material we have on our website help to make everything more transparent and easier to understand.

The same basic benchmarking that occurs nationally also happens for the state and local employment estimates. Want to know more? Visit their homepage. If you still have questions, call or email us. We are here to help.

Data Privacy Day is Every Day at BLS

There are many commemorative days, weeks, and months, but Data Privacy Day on January 28 is one that we here at BLS live every day of the year.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about it, Data Privacy Day is an international effort to “create awareness about the importance of:

  • respecting privacy,
  • safeguarding data and
  • enabling trust.”

These three phrases are central to everything we do at BLS—but don’t take my word for it! Instead, let’s hear from some of our staff members about what data privacy means in their day-to-day work lives.

I chatted with staff members from three key areas at the Bureau:

  • Collection — our field economists collect data from respondents.
  • Systems — our computer specialists protect the IT infrastructure where we keep the data.
  • Analysis — our economists analyze the data, prepare products, and explain the data to our customers.

Now, let’s meet the staff.

Richard Regotti

Richard Regotti

My name is Richard Regotti, Field Economist in the BLS Chicago Regional Office, Cleveland Area Office. I have proudly served the public in this position for 12 years. As a Field Economist I am responsible for collecting data and developing positive relationships and securing cooperation from survey respondents for the Producer Price Index and the International Price Indexes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jess Mitchell

Jess Mitchell

My name is Jess Mitchell and I have been an Information Security Specialist in the Bureau’s national office since 2013. I started with BLS in 1999. Currently, I am the Computer Security Incident Response Team Lead, so I, along with my team members, investigate, analyze and report on computer security incidents as well as the impact or potential impact of cyber threats and vulnerabilities to BLS systems and data.

 

 

 

 

 

Karen Kosanovich

Karen Kosanovich

My name is Karen Kosanovich, Economist, and I have spent the past 19 years working with unemployment data from the Current Population Survey, and 25 years total at BLS. I develop analyses, such as The Employment Situation, and talk to our customers about the data.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question 1. One of our core BLS values is the confidentiality of data: All respondent data are completely confidential and used for statistical purposes only. How does this impact you in your daily work?

Richard: On a daily basis I am asking producers and service providers to voluntarily provide very sensitive company information. Even after identifying myself as a representative of our Federal Government, some respondents are not comfortable with agreeing to provide us their confidential information for use in our statistical output. By focusing on the mission of the BLS and the legal protections that are in place to safeguard survey data, I am able to function on the front line as a data collector.

Jess: This core value of data confidentiality helps me to focus on the importance of protecting the confidentiality of BLS data when my team members and I are investigating threats. The importance of BLS data underscores the importance of our daily work to keep BLS data and data respondent information confidential.

Karen: I don’t have access to information about specific people who respond to our survey. All personally identifying information is stripped away before the statistical information is given to an economist like me to analyze. For my colleagues and me, confidentiality means protecting our estimates from being distributed in advance of the official release of the unemployment rate at 8:30 a.m. on the day we publish our data.

Question 2. Does adherence to this core value create any challenges for you in your work? How have you overcome those challenges?

Richard: Adherence to complete confidentiality, supported by the fact that the data are used for statistical purposes only, presents no challenge to me; this core value is a selling point and something I make sure all potential survey participants are aware of prior to providing any data to the BLS.

Jess: Adherence to the core BLS value of data confidentiality does create a challenge when we need to engage our office in an incident or threat investigation; we must be very diligent not to share Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) information.

Karen: Our procedures for working with embargoed (prerelease) information are so ingrained in my work routine that I don’t notice any challenges from them. The people I work with all have the same responsibility and a strong commitment to public service, so it is easy for us to keep vigilant.

Question 3. If you could make a statement to the American people about why they should trust BLS with their information, what would that be?

Richard: BLS is not a compliance or regulatory agency in any way. We are only concerned with providing accurate, timely, relevant, and unbiased data that reports on the health and well-being of our economy. Your information contributes to the validity of BLS data.

Jess: The confidentiality of BLS data is always at the root of my office’s work, and I see the same focus on data privacy and confidentiality and diligence toward the safeguarding of CIPSEA data throughout the entire culture of BLS.

Karen: Although I don’t have names and personal details of specific unemployed people who respond to our survey, my colleagues and I are very mindful of the importance of representing the experience of all Americans when we produce our estimates. The data we publish are not just numbers, but tell the story of real people. It can be very stressful to be unemployed, and those who have been looking for work for a very long time face significant challenges in the labor market. We take our jobs, and our mission, very seriously.

And now the rules:

Of course, we don’t work in a vacuum. Like any other organization, we have rules that we live under.

BLS makes a pledge of confidentiality to its respondents that data collected are used for statistical purposes only. The pledge is covered by CIPSEA, which makes it a felony to disclose or release the information for either nonstatistical purposes (for example, regulatory or law-enforcement purposes) or to unauthorized persons. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget has Statistical Policy Directives (3 and 4) that govern BLS news releases to ensure they meet specific accuracy, timeliness, and accountability standards.

On January 28, and every day, we hope you will take steps to protect your own privacy and the privacy of others. Here at BLS we will continue to educate and raise awareness about respecting privacy and safeguarding data. It is core to our mission and central to our staff values. Without the trust these actions produce among the American people, we could not do our work in providing gold-standard data for and about America’s workers.

Thank you for your trust and happy Data Privacy Day!

Recent Improvements to BLS Occupational Safety and Health Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported on workplace safety for much of its 134-year history. Current data have their origins in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and program revisions made in the early 1990s. In the past year, BLS has revamped the way it releases workplace safety information, streamlining the approach to reduce confusion and make information available sooner.

Each year BLS publishes information on fatal work injuries from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and nonfatal work injuries and illnesses from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. BLS recently modernized the data release for both programs.

Before 2016, BLS released two sets of fatal injury data—preliminary and final. Preliminary data were typically available in August or September following the reference year; final data were available as many as 8 months later. This two-step release made it difficult to understand changes from year to year. Widespread publicity surrounded the preliminary release. Some users compared newly released preliminary information with the previous year’s final information. The release cautioned readers not to compare final and preliminary figures, but that was what readers wanted to do. By the final release, the publicity surrounding the data largely had faded.

Our review of the fatal injury program revealed that much of the updated information was available within a few months of the preliminary release. We decided to eliminate the preliminary data release and instead provide a single, final set of data each year in December. While this delayed the information for a few months, it lessened confusion and made final data available many months earlier than in the past. We released fatal work injury information for 2015 in December 2016 and 2016 information in December 2017.

A chart showing fatal work injuries in the United States from 2003 to 2016.

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

Before 2017, BLS released two sets of nonfatal data from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. We first released summary information highlighting the number and rate of nonfatal injuries by industry. We later released detailed data about a subset of workplace injuries that resulted in days away from work. Summary information has been available from the survey since the early 1970s. When BLS added the detailed data in the early 1990s, we released them separately from the summary information because we could not complete the estimation until several months after the summary data came out.

In recent years, we have been able to complete the detailed case estimates within a few weeks of the summary information. The closeness of the two releases often confused people about which data were available when. Further, the two sets of information complement each other. As you learn about the number or rate of injuries by industry, you are naturally curious about the details. Which occupations? What was the nature of the injury or event that resulted in the injury? How long is the injured employee away from work?

Beginning with 2016 data, we combined all information on nonfatal injuries and illnesses into a single release published on November 9, 2017. From the information available that day, you learn there were roughly a half-million recorded injuries and illnesses in the manufacturing industry. About one in four of them resulted in days away from work. Further, about 35,000 days-away-from-work cases in manufacturing resulted in sprains, strains, or tears, and 15,000 resulted in cuts or lacerations. The median number of days an injured manufacturing worker spent away from work was 9 days.

By combining information in this way, BLS and data users can develop stories about the circumstances surrounding worker injuries and identify opportunities for prevention.

A chart showing the number and rate of nonfatal work injuries and illnesses by industry in 2016.

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

To learn more, see our Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities homepage.

Number of fatal work injuries by employee status, 2003–16
Year Wage and salary Self-employed             Total
2003 4,405 1,170 5,575
2004 4,587 1,177 5,764
2005 4,592 1,142 5,734
2006 4,808 1,032 5,840
2007 4,613 1,044 5,657
2008 4,183 1,031 5,214
2009 3,488 1,063 4,551
2010 3,651 1,039 4,690
2011 3,642 1,051 4,693
2012 3,571 1,057 4,628
2013 3,635 950 4,585
2014 3,728 1,093 4,821
2015 3,751 1,085 4,836
2016 4,098 1,092 5,190
Incidence rates and numbers of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses by private industry sector, 2016
Private industry sector Incidence rate Number of cases
Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting 6.1 58,300
Transportation and warehousing 4.6 210,200
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 4.4 58,600
Health care and social assistance 4.2 585,800
Manufacturing 3.6 449,800
Accommodation and food services 3.3 279,900
Retail trade 3.3 395,900
Construction 3.2 203,500
Wholesale trade 2.8 157,100
Real estate and rental and leasing 2.7 51,100
Administrative and waste services 2.3 119,500
Other services (except public administration) 2.3 73,300
Utilities 2.1 11,500
Educational services 2.0 37,500
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 1.5 10,100
Information 1.3 32,500
Management of companies and enterprises 0.9 20,300
Professional and technical services 0.9 71,600
Finance and insurance 0.6 30,800
Note: The incidence rate is the number of injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time equivalent workers.

Workplace Fatalities of Older U.S. Workers, Including Baby Boomers, Reach Historic High

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Caleb Hopler is an economist in the Office of Safety, Health, and Working Conditions at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Baby Boomer” is a term for Americans born between 1946 and 1964. Most Baby Boomers are now age 55 and older. Workplace safety for these older workers is reflected in counts and rates of fatal occupational injuries.

Workers aged 55 and older had the highest rate of fatal work injuries among all age groups in 2016, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The rate for workers age 65 and older—9.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers—was notably higher than the rate for all workers (3.6).

Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age, 2016

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

Workers age 55 and older accounted for 36 percent of all fatally injured workers in 2016, although workers in this age group comprised just 23 percent of all workers in 2016. The 1,848 deaths among workers age 55 and older in 2016 is the highest ever recorded for this age group since we began reporting national data in 1992.

These fatally injured employees worked in many different occupations: 29 percent in transportation and material moving; 15 percent in construction and extraction; 14 percent in management; 9 percent in installation, maintenance, and repair; 6 percent in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; 5 percent in farming, fishing, and forestry; and the rest in other occupations.

Top occupational groups for workers age 55 and older who suffered fatal work injuries in 2016

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

We also collect the event or exposure, which describes the manner in which the fatal injury occurred. More workers die from transportation incidents than any other event, while fires and explosions have the lowest counts. Of the 773 fatal injuries from transportation incidents in 2016, 135 workers were pedestrians fatally struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment. Roadway collisions with at least one other vehicle resulted in 219 worker deaths. Another 116 workers were killed in a roadway collision with an object other than a vehicle, which could include trees or barriers.

Falls, slips, and trips resulted in 426 fatal injuries to workers age 55 and older in 2016, second only behind transportation incidents. Within this category, 313 workers died from falls to a lower level. These include falls due to collapsing structures or equipment, through a surface or existing opening, or from objects or structures (such as trees, stairs, or roofs).

Fatal occupational injuries to workers age 55 and older by event

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

In 2016, the total number of deaths among workers of all ages was at an 8-year high of 5,190. This was a 7-percent increase from the 4,836 fatal injuries reported in 2015. The 2016 fatal injury rate, 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, was the highest since 2010.

For more information on fatal occupational injuries in the United States, see the Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities homepage. You can get data from our data page and profiles system. We also have interactive charts, a longer set of tables and charts, and state data.

Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age, 2016
Age Rate
16 to 17 2.1
18 to 19 1.9
20 to 24 2.4
25 to 34 2.5
35 to 44 3.1
45 to 54 3.5
55 to 64 4.7
65 and older 9.6
Top occupational groups for workers age 55 and older who suffered fatal work injuries in 2016
Occupation Number
Transportation and material moving 539
Construction and extraction 277
Management 252
Installation, maintenance, and repair 170
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance 115
Farming, fishing, and forestry 100
Fatal occupational injuries to workers age 55 and older by event
Event or exposure 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Transportation incident 673 658 659 720 772 773
Falls, slips, and trips 285 295 304 395 344 426
Contact with objects and equipment 236 263 233 250 276 288
Violence and other injuries by persons or animals 203 220 190 195 179 227
Exposure to harmful substances or environments 67 50 68 92 70 90
Fire or explosion 36 32 29 34 33 35

Celebrating 75 Years of BLS Regional Offices

World War II had a significant impact on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1942, the Office of Price Administration asked BLS to help them understand what was going on with prices and price controls. Price controls? Remember, this was during World War II and there was significant government intervention in markets. Shortly after that, the National War Labor Board asked BLS to conduct surveys and evaluate wage rate increases. These two projects showed the need for local information, not just national averages. Why am I writing about events from World War II? Well, the growing need for local data led BLS to create our regional offices, and we recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. I want to tell you a little about these offices and their rich history.

Today, BLS staff throughout the country collect price and wage data and more. As you can imagine, the uses of these data and the methods for collecting them have changed significantly. Our regional offices collect survey data, work closely with our state partners, and help people find and understand the information they need.

Survey data collection has changed significantly from the 1940s. Today our regional staff throughout the country work with survey respondents to make it as easy as possible to provide accurate information. Modern technology makes it easier to respond to our surveys, but even more important is the close relationships our regional staff have with survey respondents. That high-touch, high-tech approach has proven successful and helped us achieve high response rates.

BLS has a long history of working with states. We wrote about this unique and important partnership back in 2016. Our regional staff work closely with their state colleagues to provide data that are timely, accurate, and relevant to the local economy. We are proud of our partnership with the states.

Finally, each regional office has a small staff of economists dedicated to providing information to the public. These Economic Analysis and Information staff write news releases and other reports that focus on local data. The staff support our data collection efforts through outreach to local business communities and associations. The staff also provide information to people and businesses who use data to make important decisions.

What started as a way to provide analysis on government price controls and wage increases has evolved and blossomed into an integral part of BLS. The pioneering staff from our past and the dedicated staff of today allow us to produce gold standard economic statistics.

Congratulations to the BLS regional offices staff on 75 years of excellent service to the nation!