All posts by BLS Commissioner

Paid Leave Benefits When You Are Unable to Work

Many American workers have lost jobs or had their work hours reduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts. Many other workers still have jobs, but their work environment probably has changed since March. It’s reasonable to assume more people are working from home now than the 29 percent we reported who could work at home in 2017–18. At BLS we are still working to provide you with the latest economic data and analysis, but nearly all of us are now working from home, instead of in our offices.

Still, there are many jobs that just can’t be done from home. In these challenging times, I know we all are grateful for the healthcare workers who are treating patients who have COVID-19 and other medical conditions. We’re grateful for our emergency responders and for the truck drivers, warehouse workers, delivery workers, and staff in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail establishments that provide us with the necessities of daily life. As much as I think of these men and women as superheroes, I know they are humans. Even extraordinary humans can get sick, or they may need to take care of family members who get sick. Let’s look at the leave benefits available to them if they need it.

According to our National Compensation Survey, 73 percent of private industry workers were covered by paid sick leave in 2019. Among state and local government workers, 91 percent were covered by paid sick leave. The availability of sick leave benefits varied by occupation, ranging from 94 percent of managers in private industry to 56 percent of workers in construction and extraction occupations.

The share with paid sick leave also varies by industry, pay level, size of establishment, and other characteristics of jobs and employers. The following chart shows sick leave availability for employers of different sizes.

Percent of workers in private industry with access to paid sick leave by establishment size, March 2019

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

Paid sick leave plans commonly provide a fixed number of days per year. The number of days may vary by the worker’s length of service with the employer. The average in private industry in 2019 was 7 paid sick leave days.

Average number of paid sick leave days per year for workers in private industry, by length of service and establishment size, March 2019

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

About half of workers with such a plan could carry over unused days from year to year.

We recently posted a new fact sheet on paid sick leave that provides even more detail.

In the past few years, some states and cities have mandated that certain employers provide their workers with paid sick leave. We include these mandated plans in our data on paid leave. A Federal law passed in March 2020 requires paid sick leave for certain workers affected by COVID-19.

In addition to paid sick leave, some employers offer a short-term disability insurance plan when employees can’t work because of illness. These plans are sometimes called sickness and accident insurance plans. This was traditionally a blue-collar or union benefit, and it often replaces only a portion of an employee’s pay. In 2019, 42 percent of private industry workers had access to such a benefit. Like sick leave, the availability of short-term disability benefits varies widely across worker groups. Some states provide Temporary Disability Insurance plans that provide similar benefits.

While the National Compensation Survey asks employers what benefits they offer to workers, the American Time Use Survey recently asked workers whether paid leave is available from their employer and whether they used it. In 2017–18, two-thirds of workers had access to paid leave at their jobs. These data include information on age, sex, and other characteristics. For example, younger workers (ages 15–24) and older workers (age 65 and older) were less likely to have access to paid leave than were other workers.

Percent of workers with access to paid leave by age, 2017–18 averages

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

While the survey did not ask workers to classify the type of leave, they were asked the reasons they could take leave. Of those with paid leave available, 94 percent could use it for their own illness or medical care, and 78 percent could use it for the illness or medical care of another family member.

I hope you and your loved ones remain healthy and are able to take care of each other in these challenging times. High-quality data will be vital in the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. High-quality data also will be vital for measuring the economic impact of the pandemic and recovery from it. My colleagues at BLS and our fellow U.S. statistical agencies remain on the job to provide you with gold standard data.

Percent of workers in private industry with access to paid sick leave by establishment size, March 2019
Establishment sizePercent

1–49 workers

64%

50–99 workers

68

100–499 workers

80

500 workers or more

89
Average number of paid sick leave days per year for workers in private industry, by length of service and establishment size, March 2019
Length of serviceAll establishments 1 to 49 workers50 to 99 workers100 to 499 workers500 workers or more

After 1 year

76678

After 5 years

77679

After 10 years

77779

After 20 years

77779
Percent of workers with access to paid leave by age, 2017–18 averages
AgePercent

Ages 15–24

35.4%

Ages 25–34

70.3

Ages 35–44

71.7

Ages 45–54

74.4

Ages 55–64

74.2

Age 65 and older

51.7

How Have We Improved the Consumer Price Index? Let Me Count the Ways

Soon after I became Commissioner, the top-notch BLS staff was briefing me on the many programs and details that make up BLS. I asked the staff working on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) if they could list for me some of the improvements that have occurred over the past few years. It has been nearly a quarter century since the Boskin Commission studied the CPI and recommended enhancements. I knew many of these enhancements had been implemented, along with other improvements. But I was shocked to see my staff come back with an 8-page, detailed listing of 77 substantive improvements that have been implemented since 1996.

You may have thought a price index that has been around since 1913 is happy to rest on its laurels. Well, you’d be wrong. There are improvements to the CPI going on all the time. As I reviewed the list, I noticed a number of improvements involve the introduction of new or changed goods and services, such as cell phones or streaming services. I also noticed improvements in how we handle product changes, as I wrote recently in a blog about quality adjustment. But these topics only scratch the surface.

I’m not going to describe every CPI enhancement that has taken place over the past 24 years; you can find much more detail on the CPI webpage. But I will whet your appetite by highlighting a few categories of improvements.

Keeping the CPI market basket up to date

The goal of the CPI is to track the change in the prices consumers pay for a representative market basket of goods and services. Let’s look at the what and where of that market basket.

  • What we collect — goods and services. We collect prices for a market basket of goods and services, designed to represent what consumers are buying. In January 2002, we switched from updating that market basket every 10 years to every 2 years, providing a better representation of current spending patterns.
  • What we collect — housing. We track the cost of housing by a separate sample of housing units. In 2010, we increased that sample to improve accuracy. In 2016 we began rotating that sample every 6 years. Previously, the housing sample was only rotated when new geographic areas were introduced after the U.S. census.
  • Where we collect — outlets. We collect prices from stores and businesses that are chosen based on where consumers shop and buy goods and services. In January 1998, we switched from updating this sample of “outlets” every 5 years to every 4 years. And in January 2020, we switched the source used to determine those outlets to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is also the source of our spending information for the market basket of goods and services people buy. Previously we used a separate survey of households to identify outlets.
  • Where we collect — geography. We collect prices for goods and services in selected geographic areas, designed to represent all urban areas of the United States. In January 2018, we updated the geographic areas, designed to represent current population trends. We last updated these areas in 1998.

Collecting CPI information

According to folklore, CPI data collection was accomplished by staff who dressed up in high fashion, the ladies in fancy hats and white gloves and the gentlemen in the finest haberdashery, who then went shopping to determine the latest prices. That’s not how it happens. CPI staff are not paid to “shop” to collect prices. We use trained experts who are skilled at gaining cooperation from many different types of businesses; ensuring they are obtaining price information for goods and services that are consistent from one month to the next or making appropriate adjustments; and gathering information from thousands of outlets about hundreds of thousands of goods and services over a short data-collection period. Let’s look at how the data-collection process has improved:

  • When we collect — In June 2005, the CPI switched from a collection period that spanned the first 15–18 days of the month to collection across the entire month. This provides more representative data, especially for items that frequently vary in price within the same month.
  • How we collect — In January 1998, the CPI began using computerized data-collection tools, which automate certain math functions and screen for errors or inconsistencies. We continue to upgrade our processes; CPI data-collection staff recently began using a new generation of tablet computers.
  • Alternative collection — Not all price information comes from traditional collection with stores. Some information comes from websites, corporate data files, third parties that combine data from different sources, and more. In fact, the CPI and other BLS programs are focused on identifying even more alternative collection methods in the coming years.

Calculating the CPI

Once we collect the prices on all these goods and services, we need to calculate an index. In simple terms, we find the difference between the price in month 1 and the price in month 2, and express that difference as a rate of change from month 1. We publish rates of change and also express current prices as an index, which is equal to 100 in a base period.

Many factors and decisions go into combining data for an item and then combining data for all items into the published CPI. We’ve improved those calculations in several ways over the past few years.

  • Geometric mean — In January 1999, the CPI switched the formula for calculating price changes at the component item level from an arithmetic mean to a geometric mean. This allows the overall index to capture substitutions consumers make across specific products within a component item category when the prices of those products change relative to one another. With the geometric mean formula, BLS does not assume consumers substitute hamburgers for steak, which are in different component categories. The formula only captures substitution within a component category, such as among types of steak.
  • More decimal places — In January 2007, the CPI began publishing index numbers to 3 decimal places, which improved consistency between published index numbers and rates of change.

New information available to the public

While the CPI has been around for over a century, we have added a number of new indexes over time, to provide a variety of inflation figures. Here are some of the newest products in the CPI family:

  • Research (Retroactive) series — The CPI Research Series incorporates many of the improvements that came out of the Boskin Commission. The series provides a pretty consistent way to measure price changes from 1978 up to the most recent full year.
  • Chained CPI series – The Chained CPI uses an alternative formula that applies spending data in consecutive months to reflect any substitution that consumers make across component item categories in response to changes in relative prices. For example, this index would capture consumer substitution of hamburger for steak. This measure is designed to come closer to a “cost-of-living” index than other BLS measures. The series was first produced in 2002.
  • Elderly research series – The CPI for the Elderly reweights the component CPI data based on the spending patterns of elderly households. This series, mandated by Congress, began in 1988. In 2008, we extended the series retrospectively back to 1982.

As I have mentioned in the past, we are always working to improve the CPI. We recently contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to provide guidance on a variety of issues. I’ll use this space to report on the Committee’s work, as well as other improvements underway in the CPI.

State Productivity: A BLS Production

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Jennifer Price is an economist in the Office of Productivity and Technology at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. She enjoys watching theatrical performances when she’s not working.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a high school play. The cast was composed of a male and female lead and at least a dozen supporting actors. The program listed the performers and acknowledged many other students, parents, teachers, and administrators. They all played some important role to bring the play to life—lighting, sound, painting props, sewing costumes, creating promotional materials, selling tickets, working concessions. All of these pieces came together harmoniously to make the performance a success.

Setting the Stage: New Measures of State Productivity

We can view the health of the nation’s economy through the same lens. Our diversified economy is made up of lead performers and supporting roles in the form of industries. Some industries contribute more heavily to growth in output or productivity, playing the star role. Other industries are supporting characters, contributing to a smaller, but necessary, share of growth. Our productivity program recently published a webpage that examines how industries contribute to the nation’s private business output and productivity growth.

We also can examine these roles geographically. Until recently, BLS productivity measures were only produced at the national level. Last June, BLS published experimental measures of state labor productivity for the private nonfarm business sector. These measures, which cover the period from 2007 to 2017, will help us learn more about productivity growth in each state and how each state contributes to national productivity trends.

Measuring productivity for all states allows us to credit the role played by each state, not just the total performance of the national economy or region. Just as each person, no matter how small their role, was necessary for the success of the school play, each state contributes to how we evaluate national or regional productivity. When we examine the contribution of each state to total productivity trends, we find that, like actors, no two states perform identically. Similar individual growth rates may have different impacts on the productivity of the nation or region. By analyzing state productivity trends over the long term, we learn more about regional business cycles, regional income inequality, and the role of local regulations and taxes on growth.

From 2007 to 2017, labor productivity changes ranged from a gain of 3.1 percent per year in North Dakota to a loss of 0.7 percent per year in Louisiana.

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

We estimate each state’s annual contribution to national or regional productivity growth by multiplying the state’s productivity growth rate by its average share of total current dollar national or regional output. The economic size of each state influences its contribution to national and regional estimates. From 2007 to 2017, California was our lead performer, with the largest contribution to national productivity growth. The state’s productivity grew 1.7 percent per year on average, and its large economy means it contributed more than one-fifth of the 1.0-percent growth in national labor productivity.

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

Supporting actors included Texas and New York. Making a cameo appearance was North Dakota; despite having the largest productivity growth rate, it ranked 28th in terms of its contribution to national productivity growth. Stars in each region included Illinois (Midwest), New York (Northeast), Texas (South), and California (West). Understudies—those states with the largest growth rates—were North Dakota (Midwest), Pennsylvania (Northeast), and Oklahoma (South). Oregon and Washington shared this role out West.

Second Act

For now, our new measures cover the private nonfarm sector for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2007 to 2017. These measures include output per hour, output, hours, unit labor costs, hourly compensation, and real hourly compensation. Our measures of labor productivity for states are experimental, meaning we’re still assessing them and considering ways to improve them. In the second act, we will be looking into producing state-level measures for more detailed sectors and industries.

For an encore performance, check out our state labor productivity page. We’d love to hear your feedback! Email comments to productivity@bls.gov.

Annual percent change in labor productivity in the private nonfarm sector, 2007–17
StateAnnual percent change

North Dakota

3.1

California

1.7

Oregon

1.7

Washington

1.7

Colorado

1.6

Oklahoma

1.6

Maryland

1.5

Montana

1.5

Pennsylvania

1.5

Massachusetts

1.4

New Mexico

1.4

Vermont

1.4

Idaho

1.3

Kansas

1.3

Nebraska

1.1

New Hampshire

1.1

South Carolina

1.1

Tennessee

1.1

Texas

1.1

West Virginia

1.1

Alabama

1.0

Hawaii

1.0

Kentucky

1.0

Minnesota

1.0

New York

1.0

Rhode Island

1.0

South Dakota

1.0

Virginia

1.0

Georgia

0.9

Arkansas

0.8

Missouri

0.8

Ohio

0.8

Utah

0.8

Illinois

0.7

North Carolina

0.7

Delaware

0.6

Florida

0.6

Iowa

0.6

Indiana

0.5

Mississippi

0.5

New Jersey

0.5

Wisconsin

0.5

Alaska

0.4

Arizona

0.4

District of Columbia

0.4

Michigan

0.4

Maine

0.3

Nevada

0.3

Wyoming

0.1

Connecticut

-0.5

Louisiana

-0.7
States with the largest contributions to national labor productivity, average annual percent change, 2007–17
StateState contribution to U.S. labor productivity

California

0.22

Texas

0.10

New York

0.08

Pennsylvania

0.06

Washington

0.04

Massachusetts

0.04

Illinois

0.03

How We Collect Data When People Don’t Answer the Phone

I was asked recently how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can collect data these days when no one answers the telephone. A legitimate question and one we grapple with all the time. I had two answers – one related to data collection methods and one related to sources of data. I will elaborate here about both.

Beige wall phone with rotary dial

But first, do you remember the days before caller ID, when everyone answered the phone? If you were at home, the rotary phone, permanently attached to the kitchen wall, always rang during dinner.

If you were in the office, the phone probably had a row of clear plastic buttons at the bottom that would light up and flash. In either case, who was on the other end of the phone was a mystery until you answered. In those days, your friendly BLS caller could easily get through to you and ask for information.

Vintage office phone with rows of buttons

Fast forward to today’s world of smart phones and other mobile devices. Nobody talks on the phone anymore. Many phone calls are nuisances. A call from BLS might show up as Unknown Number, U.S. Government, or U.S. Department of Labor on your caller ID, or identified as potential spam. With the spread of “spoofing,” many people do not answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize. How do we get around these issues?

Data Collection

At BLS, we consider data collection as much an art as a science. Sure, our staff needs to be well-versed in the information they are collecting. But they also need to be salespersons, able to convince busy people to spend a few minutes answering key questions. Part of that art is making a connection. There are old-fashioned ways that still work, such as sending a letter or showing up at the door. And there are more modern techniques, such as email and text. We are nothing if not persistent.

Our data-collection techniques have been called “High Touch, High Tech.” We start by building a relationship—the High Touch step. BLS has a wide range of information that people and businesses can use to help make informed decisions. We can help you access that information, and we love to see survey respondents use BLS data they helped us produce. In return, we ask for some information from you. There’s where High Tech comes in. We continue to add flexibility to our data-collection toolkit. You can provide information in person, on paper, or on the phone. You also can email information or an encrypted file. Or you can access our online portal anytime and anywhere to provide information or upload a data file. We need your information, and we want to make providing that information as easy as possible.

For example, this chart shows the number of employer self-reports that we’ve received through our online portal over the past several years. Internet data collection has really taken off.

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

Another data-collection strategy we use is asking businesses to allow us to get the information we need from their website. This might involve web scraping data or using an Application Programming Interface (API). We have had success showing businesses that we can get what we need from their website, often eliminating the need for them to compile data.

Alternative Data

Beyond these data-collection strategies, we are expanding efforts to get information from alternative sources, lessening our need to contact businesses and households. Some BLS programs, such as Local Area Unemployment Statistics, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, and Productivity Studies, rely heavily on administrative data and information from other surveys. In these cases, there is little need to contact businesses or people directly.

Other BLS programs, such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Employment Cost Index (ECI), need to capture timely information. But there are alternatives that can complement direct data collection. The CPI, for example, has produced an experimental price index for new vehicles based on a file of vehicle purchase transactions provided by J.D. Power. Using information from sources like that may eventually lessen the need to have BLS employees contact vehicle dealerships. The ECI found that it was easier to capture employer premiums for unemployment insurance from state tax records than to ask employers.

Alternative data come in many forms, from government records, data aggregators, scanners, crowdsourcing, corporate data files, and many more. BLS is investing heavily in alternative data-collection techniques and alternative data sources. The High Touch and High Tech approach we use every day in our data-collection operations helps us to maximize data quality and minimize respondent burden and cost.

The telephone may go the way of the dinosaur, but that’s not stopping us from using every tool at our disposal to continue to produce gold standard data to inform your decisions.

Number of transactions with BLS internet data collection
YearNumber of transactions

2004

105,145

2005

148,754

2006

219,923

2007

534,555

2008

972,605

2009

1,544,795

2010

1,909,410

2011

2,322,540

2012

2,769,694

2013

3,236,376

2014

3,288,665

2015

3,554,639

2016

4,013,415

2017

4,513,297

2018

4,685,414

2019

4,868,939

Projected Occupational Openings: Where Do They Come From?

Toward the beginning of each school year, BLS issues a new set of Employment Projections, looking at projected growth and decline in occupations over the next decade. These estimates are important for understanding structural changes in the workforce over time. But to identify opportunities for new workers, we need to look beyond occupational growth and decline, to a concept we call “occupational openings.”

Occupational openings are the sum of the following:

  • Projected job growth (or decline)
  • Occupational separations — workers leaving an occupation, which includes:
    • Labor force exits — workers who leave the labor force entirely, perhaps to retire
    • Occupational transfers — workers who leave one occupation and transfer to a different occupation.

This video explains the concept of occupational openings further.

BLS publishes the projected number of occupational openings for over 800 occupations. Not surprisingly, some of the largest occupations in the country have some of the largest number of openings. For example, certain food service jobs, which include fast food workers, are projected to have nearly 800,000 openings per year over the next decade. I guess this isn’t a surprise in an occupation with over 3.7 million workers.

But when we delve into the information on occupational openings a little further, more stories emerge. Some related occupations have very different patterns of openings. And some occupations have similar levels of openings for different reasons. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

In 2018, there were over 800,000 lawyers in the U.S., and a projected 45,000 annual openings for lawyers, about 5.5 percent of employment. At the same time, there were fewer than half the number of paralegals and legal assistants (325,000), with projected annual openings around 40,000 per year – 12.4 percent of employment. These two related occupations had similar numbers of projected openings, but those openings represented different proportions of current employment. Such differences reflect required education, demographics, compensation, and other variables. Lawyers tend to have professional degrees that are specialized for that occupation and are therefore more closely tied to their occupation than paralegals, who have more diverse educational backgrounds. You can find out more about how worker characteristics affect these numbers in the Monthly Labor Review.

Now let’s look at the sources of occupational openings. In this first example, we compare two occupational groups: installation, maintenance, and repair occupations and healthcare support occupations. These are broad categories that include a number of different individual occupations.

Average annual occupational openings for installation, maintenance, and repair occupations and healthcare support occupations, 2018–28

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

In this example, both occupational groups have projected annual openings of a little over 600,000 per year, yet they come from different sources. Two-thirds of the openings among installation occupations result from workers leaving to go to other occupations; in contrast, just under half the openings among healthcare support occupations are from people moving to other occupations. Looking at projected job growth, BLS projects that healthcare support occupations, the fastest growing occupational group, will add more than three times as many new jobs as installation occupations, annually over the next decade (78,520 versus 23,320).

Now let’s look at two individual occupations — web developers and court, municipal, and license clerks. These are very different jobs, but both are projected to have about 15,000 annual openings over the next decade. Here, too, occupational openings come from very different places, as this chart shows:

Average annual occupational openings for web developers and court, municipal, and license clerks, 2018–28

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

In this case, around 67 percent of openings for web developer jobs come from workers transferring to other jobs, compared with only 49 percent transfers for clerks. But a greater share of clerks are exiting the labor force. Once again, differences are due to a variety of factors, although the age of workers is a significant factor in this case — web developers have a median age of 38.3, while clerks tend to be older, with a median age of 49.1. Younger workers are more likely to transfer occupations, while older workers are more likely to exit the labor force, as for retirement.

So what does all this really mean? If nothing else, you can see that the thousands of individual data elements available through the BLS Employment Projections program tell a thousand different stories, and more. Whether large or small, growing or declining, there’s information about hundreds of occupations that can be helpful to students looking for careers, counselors helping those students and others, workers wanting to change jobs, employers thinking about their future, policymakers considering where to put job training resources, and on and on. These examples just scratch the surface of what BLS Employment Projections information can tell us. Take a look for yourself.

Average annual occupational openings, 2018–28
OccupationEmployment growthExitsTransfers

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

23,320195,700413,900

Healthcare support occupations

78,520235,500299,600
Average annual occupational openings, 2018–28
OccupationEmployment growthExitsTransfers

Web developers

2,0902,90010,100

Court, municipal, and license clerks

6707,0007,300