I am fortunate to have so many opportunities to speak about the Bureau of Labor Statistics and how the information we release—almost daily—helps Americans make smart decisions. Recently, I’ve spoken to academics, students, researchers, business leaders, labor officials, policymakers, and more. No matter the group, I’m often asked what data we have for a specific state or local area. While people care about national trends—the current (February 2016) national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent is the lowest rate since November 2007—they also want to know what’s happening closer to home. People in Iowa want to know their unemployment rate, 3.5 percent in January 2016, just as people in Mississippi want to know their unemployment rate, 6.7 percent.
I hope all users of BLS data appreciate that BLS is able to produce much of our national, state, and local data because of our partnerships with the states.
BLS and our state partners work together to publish comparable data in two broad subject areas: the labor market (employment, hours, and earnings) and occupational safety and health (workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities). I emphasized “comparable” in the previous sentence because we must be sure we measure conditions well and in the same way across localities. Otherwise, it’s hard to know how your area stacks up—in either level or trend.
Today I will focus on our Labor Market Information (LMI) programs, the first of which started over a century ago to collect employment, hours, and earnings for states and metro areas in 1915.
Four BLS programs make up the LMI family:
- The Current Employment Statistics program provides the very timely monthly report on payroll jobs for the nation by detailed industry. It also provides employment data for states and metropolitan areas. Did you know California gained 442,400 jobs from January 2015 to January 2016? That was more jobs than any other state, but seven states had larger percentage gains. Idaho had the largest percentage increase, 3.7 percent, compared with 2.8 percent in California.
- The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages is a complete count of all employers who file Unemployment Insurance reports with their states. This program provides our most detailed geographic breakdowns, with information down to the county level. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where I used to live, had 713,000 wage and salary workers in the third quarter of 2015, and their average weekly wage was $985.
- The Occupational Employment Statistics program provides employment and wage information for detailed occupations. The program provides data for the nation, states, metropolitan areas, and other geographic groupings. From this program, we learn that accountants and auditors in Boise earned an average of $31.21 per hour in 2014; the national average for accountants and auditors was $35.42 per hour.
- The Local Area Unemployment Statistics program provides unemployment data for states and local areas. Interestingly, both North and South Dakota had 2.8 percent unemployment rates in January 2016, the lowest in the nation.
BLS and the states work together to decide what information we and our customers in the public and private sector need to learn about the labor market. Together we decide the best methods for collecting accurate, relevant information at a cost that provides the best value for taxpayers. BLS and the states collaborate on collecting the data, ensuring its accuracy, and publishing it quickly enough for public policymakers, businesses, and families to make good decisions.
Our partnerships with the states foster a culture of continuous improvement, as we test new ideas and methods to deepen our knowledge of the labor market. We strengthened this partnership through the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and more recently the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. Working together, we strive to produce and improve labor market information that serves the needs of local communities across the country.