Topic Archives: Benefits and Compensation

Now on Video: Finding Better Ways to Talk about Data

Our mission at BLS is to help people understand what’s going on in the labor market and the economy. Since our founding in 1884, we’ve aided that understanding by improving our products. We didn’t start with stone tablets, but we have produced mountains of paper and its electronic equivalent in 133 years. Whether it’s news releases or articles or bulletins, most of our output includes text, tables, and, more recently, graphics. Recently we have added another medium to our library, using video to tell stories about our data. We are pleased to introduce you to “Beth’s Bird Houses,” “What if there were only 100 jobs in the United States,” and more, now available on video.

Why video? Video lets us provide a large amount of information in a shorter time. We know you are busy, and we want to use your time wisely. We will always need written words and tables and charts to provide the details of our economic analyses and survey methods, but video helps us provide the main points more quickly. Video is also easy to share through social media, helping us reach more people.

The first video we produced is about our statistics on productivity. Productivity statistics are among the most technically complex data we produce. Despite their complexity, we believe it’s important to understand productivity statistics because productivity directly affects workers’ pay and the nation’s standard of living. We produced a video that explains in about 2 minutes the essential elements of productivity statistics. How’s that for being productive? Check it out and let us know how you enjoy it.

We recently posted two videos about the Employment Cost Index, which measures changes in the costs to employers of worker pay and benefits. One video explains what the Employment Cost Index is. The other video explains how the Employment Cost Index is used.

Want to know more about the different types of jobs workers have in the United States? What about workplace hazards and the safety of America’s workers? We have new videos on those subjects too, and we expect to keep adding to the list to keep you informed. You can see all of our videos on our video page.

Our customers use BLS information to support their private and public decision making. Our mission is to remain relevant to a diverse set of data users regardless of their technical expertise. We believe it’s important not just to tell people what the numbers are but to explain what they mean and where they come from. Video gives us new opportunities to reach a wider audience with our information. As they say in the movies, roll ‘em.

Bringing You Better Data on Occupational Wages

At BLS, we believe better decisions begin with better data. That belief inspired the collaboration between our Occupational Employment Statistics and National Compensation Survey programs to produce more detailed data on occupational wages than either program can provide separately. We developed these wage estimates by listening to our customers’ needs, while working within our existing resources.

We produce these wage estimates using a statistical model that combines wage and geographic data from one survey with data on job characteristics and work levels from the other survey. Job characteristics include full-time or part-time status, bargaining status (that is, union or nonunion), and time-based pay or incentive pay. For example, estimates from our 2015 data show that, nationwide, full-time cashiers earned an average of $11.48 per hour, compared with $9.56 for their part-time counterparts.

Work levels are based on such characteristics as the knowledge needed to perform the job, the complexity of the job, how much the employee can control how the work is performed, the nature and purpose of contacts on the job, and the physical environment.

For one example, the chart below shows the average wages in 2015 of full-time workers in education, training, and library occupations by their work level. The lower levels are typically administrative and clerical positions. Entry-level professionals may range from levels 5 to 9. Those at the upper end are typically experienced professionals.

Chart showing mean hourly wages of full-time workers in education, training, and library occupations by work level in 2015

Editor’s note: Data for the chart are provide below.

The modeled wage estimates are available by occupation, geographic location, job characteristics, and work levels. We will update the modeled wage estimates each year. Want to know more? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions or ask us your own questions by email.

 

Mean hourly wages of full-time workers in education, training, and library occupations by work level, 2015
Work level Wage
All levels $28.06
Level 2 10.36
Level 3 11.18
Level 4 14.03
Level 5 16.23
Level 6 15.52
Level 7 22.10
Level 8 29.59
Level 9 29.62
Level 10 37.47
Level 11 42.21
Level 12 66.16

 

Innovating for the Future

Erica L. Groshen was the 14th Commissioner of Labor Statistics. She served from January 2013 to January 2017. This is her final post for Commissioner’s Corner.

Image of former BLS Commissioner Erica L. Groshen

It didn’t take long after I became Commissioner of Labor Statistics in January 2013 for me to appreciate the skill, dedication, and innovation of the staff that works here. Whether they’re doing sampling, data collection, estimation, or dissemination; whether they’re the IT professionals or the statisticians or the HR staff; whether they’re the newest employees who are so tech-savvy or the more senior employees who hold a wealth of institutional knowledge. To a person they are phenomenal. I am honored to have had the pleasure of leading them — and letting them lead me — during the past 4 years.

 

I have had many opportunities to observe and encourage innovation during my tenure at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from listening tours to senior staff conferences to regional office visits to discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders. From these efforts, we have identified several activities that will help us develop and implement the next generation of labor statistics. These days, we call these efforts a variety of names, such as “modernization” and “reengineering.” But, in truth, they just continue the impressive progress that has been the hallmark of BLS for the past 133 years.

In my final Commissioner’s Corner post, I want to tell you a little about some of our current reengineering efforts.

One of the things we do best at BLS is data collection, largely because we are always looking for ways to improve. Recent efforts include identifying alternative data sources, expanding electronic collection, and “scraping” information directly from the Internet. These efforts can expand the information we provide, lessen the burden we place on employers and households that provide data, and maybe even save some money to provide taxpayers the best value for their data dollar.

These efforts are not new. One source of alternative data we’ve used for many years comes from state unemployment insurance filings, which identify nearly every employer in the country. We tabulate these data but also use them as the source of our sample of employers for certain surveys and as a benchmark of detailed employment by industry. We also use information from private sources and from administrative sources, like vital statistics. Our latest efforts involve examining techniques to combine data across multiple sources, including mixing survey and nonsurvey data.

We want to give employers the opportunity to leverage the electronic data they already keep so it’s easier to respond to our surveys. These efforts include allowing employers to provide electronic information in multiple formats; identifying a single source of electronic data from employers, reducing the number of locations and number of requests made to multiple sites of the same organization; and working with employers to allow BLS to access their data directly from the Internet. We rely on good corporate citizens to supply the information that we use to produce important economic data. Making data collection easier is a win-win.

The innovation doesn’t stop at collection. We are using electronic text analysis systems extensively to streamline some of our data-processing activities. Much of the information we collect is in the form of text, such as a description of an industry or occupation, details about a workplace injury, or summaries of employee benefit plans. Transforming text into a classification system for tabulation and publication used to be a manual task. BLS has begun to transform this task through the use of machine-learning techniques, where computers learn by reviewing greater and greater amounts of information, resulting in accurate classification. As we expand our skills in this area and find more uses for these techniques, the benefits include accurate and consistent data and greater opportunities for our staff to use their brainpower to focus on new, unique, and unusual situations.

We are also modernizing our outputs, producing more with the information we have. For example, we have begun several matching projects, combining data from two or more sources to produce new information. One example is new information on nonprofit organizations. By linking our employment data with nonprofit status obtained from the Internal Revenue Service, we now have employment data separately for the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. And we took that effort one step further and produced compensation information for these sectors as well. Look for more output from these matching efforts in the future.

Finally, we’ve made great strides in how we present our information, including expanded graphics and video. And we are not stopping there. Each year we are expanding the number of data releases that include a companion graphics package. We are developing prototypes of a new generation of data releases, with more graphics and links to data series. And we have more videos to come.

My 4 years as Commissioner of Labor Statistics have flown by. I’m excited to see so many innovations begin, thrive, and foster additional innovations. I have no doubt that the culture of innovation at BLS will continue. As my term comes to an end, I know now more than ever that the skill, dedication, and creativity of the BLS staff will lead this agency to even greater advances in the years to come.

A Brief Labor Market Update for Labor Day 2016

A diverse group of people in a variety of occupationsIn 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September. This national holiday pays tribute to American workers. A decade before Labor Day existed—since the creation of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1884—we began reporting on how the labor market is faring. So, what’s up as we reach Labor Day 2016?

  • Our monthly payroll survey shows that employment continues to expand—now nearly 6.2 million jobs above the January 2008 peak.
  • Although job growth continues, it has been slower in 2016 than in the last couple of years. The average monthly job gain in 2016 has been 182,000, compared with 229,000 in 2015 and 251,000 in 2014.
  • At 4.9 percent in August, the unemployment rate has changed little since August 2015. During late 2006 and early 2007, the unemployment rate was at its recent low, 4.4 percent. In October 2009, the rate reached 10.0 percent.
  • The number of long-term unemployed people (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 2.0 million in August. That was 26.1 percent of the total unemployed, down from the recent peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010, but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and early 2007.
  • July unemployment rates were uneven among the states. South Dakota (2.8 percent) and New Hampshire (2.9 percent) had the lowest rates, while Alaska (6.7 percent) and Nevada (6.5 percent) had the highest.
  • Among major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 15.7 percent in August, while the rates were 4.5 percent for both adult women and adult men. The August unemployment rate for African Americans was 8.1 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.4 percent for Whites, and 4.2 percent for Asians.
  • The labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or seeking work—has been trending down since the early 2000s and even more rapidly since 2008. The rate was 62.8 percent in August 2016, down from rates around 66 percent that prevailed from late 2003 to 2008.
  • Real (adjusted for inflation) average hourly earnings for all employees increased 1.7 percent from July 2015 to July 2016. Real earnings have finally started to grow in 2015 and 2016, after several years of little change.
  • Among workers in private industry, 64 percent had access to paid sick leave in March 2016, and 76 percent had access to paid vacations.
  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses decreased at a 0.6-percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2016. Although labor productivity has fallen recently, it has grown by 330 percent since 1947.
  • There were 4,821 workers in the United States who died from an injury suffered at work in 2014. That was the highest annual total since 2008 but still below the numbers of workplace deaths in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses has declined over the past several decades in the private sector. The rate in 2014 was 3.2 cases per 100 full-time workers, down from 9.2 cases per 100 full-time workers in 1976.
  • From 2014 to 2024, 7 of the 10 occupations with the fastest projected growth are related to healthcare, but there will be opportunities in a variety of fields.

The U.S. economy is large, complex, and evolving. So, BLS works hard to provide good information to help Americans make better informed decisions. We’ve been doing this for over 130 years and plan to keep serving America’s information needs for many decades to come!

Why This Counts: Productivity and Its Impact on Our Lives

How can we achieve a higher standard of living? One way might simply be to work more, trading some free time for more income. Although working more will increase how much we can produce and purchase, are we better off? Not necessarily. Only if we increase our efficiency—by producing more goods and services without increasing the number of hours we work—can we be sure to increase our standard of living.

That’s why BLS produces labor productivity statistics every quarter that tell us how well we are improving our economic efficiency. These measures compare the amount of goods and services we produce with the number of hours we work. How can we can improve labor productivity? There are many ways. We can use more and newer machinery and equipment. We can develop new technologies that streamline production. We can improve organization and communication in the workplace and manage people more effectively. Or, we can increase worker skills through education or job training.

So, how much has U.S. labor productivity improved over the years? Compared to 1947, we now produce 330 percent more goods and services per hour of work. On average, thanks to advances in technology, education, management, and so on, you can do in 15 minutes what your grandparents or great grandparents needed more than an hour to do in 1947. This is a substantial increase, and we can see it in the many improvements in living standards since World War II.

Productivity growth in recent years hasn’t been as strong, however. It may seem surprising, given all the new technologies and products in recent years, but we are now living through one of the lowest productivity-growth periods ever recorded. Since the Great Recession of 2007–09 began in the fourth quarter of 2007, labor productivity has grown just 1.0 percent per year. That is less than half the long-term average rate of 2.2 percent since 1947. Although the U.S. economy has been experiencing slow productivity growth since 2007, some industries have been doing well. For instance, the wireless telecommunication carrier industry has had annual labor productivity growth of over 15.0 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Labor productivity growth in the nonfarm business sector is lower in the current business cycle than during any of the previous ten business cycles. Chart 1 shows average annual labor productivity growth during business cycles since World War II.

Chart 1. Average annual percent change in labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector during business cycles

Multifactor productivity—which accounts for the use of machinery, equipment, and other capital, in addition to labor—has also increased more slowly over the current business cycle; it has grown 0.4 percent per year during the 2007–15 period, compared to its long-term rate of 0.9 percent per year since 1987.

Historically, productivity growth has led to gains in compensation for workers, greater profits for firms, and more tax revenue for governments. Compensation, which includes pay and benefits, has not always risen as fast as productivity, however. (See chart 2.) The difference between labor productivity gains and real hourly compensation growth is often called the “wage gap.” Real hourly compensation growth tracked labor productivity growth more closely before the 1970s. Since then, growth in real hourly compensation has lagged behind gains in productivity, widening the gap considerably. Since the start of the Great Recession in the fourth quarter of 2007, real hourly compensation has grown by only 0.6 percent per year; that’s less than half the long-term average of 1.6 percent per year.

Chart 2. Labor productivity and real hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector, 1947–2015

Measures of gross domestic product and employment tell us how the U.S. economy is doing in producing goods and services and creating jobs. Measures of productivity link what our economy produces and the labor and capital used to produce it. Labor productivity is an important statistic to track because gains in productivity are essential to improving our lives and the well-being of our nation. That’s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman meant when he noted, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long-run it’s almost everything.”

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