Topic Archives: Benefits and Compensation

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

Ensuring Security and Fairness in the Release of Economic Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is the gold standard of accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible statistical data, and I am committed to keeping it that way. As Commissioner, it is my obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our data and to make sure everyone has equitable access to these data.

One step toward equitable access and data security is coming soon; on March 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will eliminate all electronics from the lock-up facility where we allow members of the media to review economic releases and prepare news stories before the official release of the data. We are changing the procedures to better protect our statistical information from premature disclosure and to ensure fairness in providing our information to the public.

For many years the news media have helped BLS and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) inform the public about our data. Since the mid-1980s, BLS and ETA have provided prerelease data access to news organizations under strict embargoes, known as “lock-ups.” We have provided this early access consistent with federal Statistical Policy Directives of the Office of Management and Budget. BLS uses the lock-up for several major releases each month, including the Employment Situation and Consumer Price Index. ETA uses the lock-up for the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims data. These economic data have significant commercial value and may affect the movement of commodity and financial markets upon release.

Because of technological advancements, the current lock-up procedure creates an unfair competitive advantage for lock-up participants who provide BLS data to trading companies. Today, the internet permits anyone in the world to obtain economic releases for themselves directly from the BLS or DOL websites. However, unlike media organizations with computer access in the current lock-up, others who use the data do not have up to 30 minutes before the official release to process the data. Their postings about the data may lag behind those released directly from the lock-up at official publication time, 8:30 a.m. Eastern. High-speed algorithmic trading technology now gives a notable competitive advantage to market participants who have even a few microseconds head start. To eliminate this advantage and further protect our data from inadvertent or purposeful prerelease, no computers or any other electronic devices will be allowed in the lock-up.

In recent years, BLS and ETA have devoted significant resources to introducing improved technologies that strengthen our infrastructure and ensure data are posted to the BLS or DOL websites immediately following the official release time.

We at BLS and ETA are committed to the principle of a level playing field—our data must be made available to all users at the same time. We are equally committed to protecting our data. We are now positioned to continue helping the media produce accurate stories about the data, while also ensuring that all parties, including the media, businesses, and the general public, will have equitable and timely access to our most sensitive data.

You can find more details about these changes in our notice to lock-up participants. We also have a set of questions and answers about the changes to the lock-up procedures.

New Data on Balancing Family Needs with Work

Among the many challenges for today’s families is the balance between caregiving and the demands of working outside the home. Some workers are even sandwiched between the need to provide both childcare and eldercare. New information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that about two out of three employees have paid time off available to meet these needs.

Interest among federal, state, and local policymakers in paid time off and other job flexibilities motivated the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau to sponsor an extra set of questions in the American Time Use Survey. The 2017–18 Leave and Job Flexibilities Module gives us data on the characteristics of wage and salary workers who have access to paid and unpaid leave in their jobs. The module also asked questions about workers who work at home and whether they have flexible work schedules. We also know more about workers who do not have access to leave and job flexibilities. Because we collected the data directly from workers, we could ask them about their experiences, such as the reasons they take leave, or don’t take it even when they need to, and why they work at home.

We now know that 66 percent of U.S. wage and salary workers were able to take paid leave from their jobs in 2017–18. Workers were most often able to use paid leave for a vacation and if they were sick or needed medical care. One area of interest is about people who provide unpaid eldercare. The survey showed that 64 percent of eldercare providers who were employed were able to use paid leave to provide elder caregiving. Another 28 percent of these caregivers were not able to take paid leave for this reason, and 8 percent didn’t know if their employer would allow them to use paid leave to provide eldercare.

Percent of workers with access to paid leave who could use it for the following reasons, 2017–18

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

We also have learned that 36 million workers (25 percent) sometimes worked at home, and they did so for different reasons. Twenty-four percent worked at home because of a personal preference, 23 percent did so to catch up on work, 22 percent worked at home to coordinate their work schedule with personal or family needs, and 16 percent did so because their job required it. Among those who sometimes worked at home, men and women had different reasons for doing so. Women were more likely than men to work at home to finish or catch up on work and to coordinate their work schedule with personal or family needs. Men were more likely than women to work at home because of a personal preference.

Percent of workers who work at home by main reason, 2017–18

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

We published these results and more in two recent news releases. One news release focused on workers’ access to leave, their use of leave, and an unmet need for leave. The second focused on workers’ job flexibilities and work schedules.

These releases present data on:

  • Access to paid and unpaid time off
  • Use of paid and unpaid time off
  • Needing to take leave from a job but deciding not to take it
  • Flexible work hours
  • Knowing work schedule in advance
  • Working from home

The releases provide information by:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race
  • Hispanic or Latino ethnicity
  • Educational attainment
  • Full- or part-time status
  • Earnings

We also have data files that allow researchers to analyze the data and gain even more insights. Following the policies of BLS and the U.S. Census Bureau to protect the privacy of survey respondents, these data files do not have any information that could identify individual participants.

Percent of workers with access to paid leave who could use it for the following reasons, 2017–18
ReasonYesNoDon’t know

Vacation

95%5%0%

Own illness or medical care

9461

Illness or medical care of another family member

78166

Birth or adoption of a child

76159

Errands or personal reasons

70282

Childcare, other than for illness

65314

Eldercare

64288

Note: The estimates for “childcare, other than for illness” are for workers who were parents of household children under age 18. The estimates for “eldercare” are only for workers who were eldercare providers.

Percent of workers who work at home by main reason, 2017–18
ReasonTotalMenWomen

Personal preference

24%27%21%

Finish or catch up on work

232126

Coordinate work schedule with personal or family needs

222025

Job requires working at home

161616

Reduce commuting time or expense

9109

Weather

443

Other

221

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.

Wage Information Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

On April 16, BLS reported that median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers rose 2.7 percent over the year.

On April 30, BLS reported that the Employment Cost Index for wages of private industry workers rose 3.0 percent over the year.

On May 2, BLS reported that hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector rose 2.5 percent over the year.

On May 3, BLS reported that average hourly earnings for private industry workers rose 3.2 percent over the year.

What’s going on here? Why so much wage information? And which one is RIGHT?

At BLS, we get questions like this all the time, and the answer is usually “it depends.” There is no one answer that fits every question on wages; there are just different answers depending on what you want to measure. People come to BLS looking for all kinds of answers, and we want to provide as much information as we can. Thus, we have many measures of wages (and other forms of compensation) — a dozen, to be exact.

Do you want to know about wages for an industry? An occupation? By location? For men and women? Based on education? Adjusted for inflation? Including benefits? How wages relate to spending patterns? How wages relate to worker productivity? BLS has it all, and more.

We have so much wage information that even we get confused. So we developed a tool to make the dozen wage series a little easier to understand. It’s an interactive guide that lists all 12 data sources and 32 key details about each of those sources, like how often it is available.

I can hear you now — that’s 384 pieces of information (12 x 32). I’m just looking for one piece of information, not almost 400. And how do you fit all that information on one page, anyway?

The interactive guide limits the display to 3 sources at a time — you pick the sources you want to see.

A table showing 3 BLS sources of compensation information and data characteristics available from those sources.

Or you can pick one characteristic, like “measures available by occupation” and get an answer for all 12 data sources.

A table showing the occupational information available from several BLS data sources on compensation.

This tool is on the BLS beta site. We want you to give it a try and provide feedback. Check it out and leave us a comment. Want to know even more? Watch this video that helps make sense of BLS wage information.