Topic Archives: Earnings and Wages

Ensuring Gold-Standard Data in the Eye of a Storm

“Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were the most notable storms of 2017, leaving paths of death and destruction in their wake.”
Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project 2017 summary report

Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project is forecasting the 2018 hurricane season activity (as of May 31) to be average, with 13 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes expected. Is BLS ready?

How does BLS deal with hurricanes?

Since June starts hurricane season, we want to share with you one example of how last year’s storms affected our data. We present a case study using our national employment survey, the Current Employment Statistics program. This program provides monthly estimates we publish in The Employment Situation—sometimes called the “jobs report.”

We have procedures to address natural disasters. We highlight some of our challenges and how we address them. We do everything possible to provide you with gold-standard data to help you make smart decisions!

2017 Hurricane Destruction

Two major hurricanes—Harvey and Irma—blasted the U.S. mainland in August and September 2017. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands later in September.

  • Harvey first made landfall in Texas on August 25. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared 39 Texas counties eligible for federal disaster assistance after Harvey. Harvey also caused heavy damage in Louisiana.
  • Irma hit the Florida Keys on September 10 and then later hit Florida’s southern coast. FEMA declared 48 Florida counties eligible for federal disaster assistance. Before Irma hit the lower Florida Keys, the hurricane already had caused severe damage in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico.
  • Hurricane Maria made landfall in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 20, causing catastrophic damage. These areas already had suffered damage from Hurricane Irma earlier in the month.

Some things to know about the monthly employment survey

The monthly employment survey is a sample of nonfarm businesses and government agencies. The reference period is the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. The sample has just over 23,000 active reporting units in the disaster areas, representing about 6 percent of the entire active sample.

What does it mean to be employed? If the employer pays someone for any part of the reference pay period, that person is counted as employed.

How did BLS collect data in these disaster areas?

Our biggest challenge is to collect representative sample data so we publish high-quality estimates. In the “old days,” the survey was a mail survey (yes, I mean snail mail), but no more! Now we collect data electronically by several different methods. These are the most common:

  • About half the total sample uses electronic data interchange. That’s a centralized electronic data reporting system for multi-establishment firms. The firm provides an electronic file directly from their payroll system to BLS for all establishments included in the report. Most of the firms reporting are outside of the hurricane-affected areas, although they may report on establishments within the affected areas.
  • About 23 percent of establishments use computer-assisted telephone interviews.
  • Another 16 percent report using our Internet Data Collection Facility.

Using these methods, we were able to collect data from most sampled businesses in these areas using normal procedures.

What about the emergency workers working in the disaster areas? How are they counted?

  • We count emergency workers where their employer is located, not where they are working.
  • We don’t count volunteers as employed because they are not paid.
  • Activated National Guard troops are considered active duty military and are outside the scope of the survey.

Did the estimation procedures change?

Once we collect the data from businesses in the affected areas, we consider whether we need to change our estimation procedures to adjust for missing data. The survey staff determined that we didn’t need to change our methods because the collection rates in the affected areas were within normal ranges.

How did the hurricanes affect national employment data for September 2017?

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma reduced the estimate of national payroll employment for September 2017. We can’t measure the effects precisely because the survey is not designed to isolate the effects of catastrophic events. National nonfarm employment changed little (+14,000) in September 2017, after increasing by an average of 189,000 per month over the prior 12 months. A steep employment decline in food services and drinking places and below-trend growth in some industries likely reflected the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

What about Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands?

National nonfarm employment estimates do not include Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Because of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could not conduct normal data collection for their establishment surveys. The September estimates for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were delayed. The October and November estimates for the Virgin Islands also were delayed. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands eventually were able to produce estimates for September, October, and November 2017.

Want more information?

For more information on the impact of Harvey, Irma, and Maria, check out these pages:

What else does BLS know about hurricanes?

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages produces maps of businesses and employment in flood zones for states on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts that are vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storm. You can read more about those maps in another recent blog.

We hope the 2018 hurricane season won’t bring the loss of life and destruction of property that we saw in 2017. Regardless of what the season brings, BLS will be ready to continue providing gold-standard data about the labor market and economy.

Small Businesses: This is for YOU!

This week is National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s small business owners and workers to our economy. The U.S. economy is fueled by small businesses, which employ about 69 million workers!

Here at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we work closely with small businesses every day in two main ways:

  • Small businesses participate in our voluntary statistical surveys, so thanks for your cooperation!
  • BLS data help small businesses make smart decisions.

To celebrate Small Business Week, this blog shares some information about small businesses in our current economy and some testimonials from small business owners who use BLS data.

“As the owner of All Things Career Consulting (and a self-proclaimed data geek), I spend a lot of time working with organizations to develop recruiting programs. I also provide individual coaching on navigating career change, especially military transitions. What I like about BLS data is that they help me tell my clients a story about the labor force. It’s important for both employers and employees to understand what jobs are growing and how things such as the unemployment rate impact the job market. So many times people run with a myth that they have heard without digging into the data to find the truth. BLS data help them to set realistic expectations about job prospects, as well as salaries and benefits.” --Lisa Parrott, Owner (Overland Park, Kansas)

 

What is a small business?

We define small establishments as establishments with fewer than 100 workers. What is an establishment? It’s the physical location of an economic activity—for example, a factory, mine, store, or office. An establishment is not necessarily a firm; it may be a branch plant, for example, or a warehouse. Thus, small establishments may include a “mom and pop” grocery store or a small storage facility.“My company, Cornerstone Macro, provides timely analysis of macroeconomic trends to institutional investors. The Bureau’s comprehensive, reliable, and objective statistics – from employment, to inflation, to productivity – are essential to our understanding of the cyclical and secular forces shaping the investment landscape. Without these data, we would not be able to provide best-in-class research to our customers.” --Nancy R. Lazar, Co-Founder (New York, New York)

What is the source of these data?

Each quarter we publish counts of employment and wages reported by employers. These counts, from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, cover more than 97 percent of U.S. jobs. We have detail available at the county, metropolitan area, state, and national levels by industry.

So the quarterly census doesn’t cover every worker in the United States, but it is very close!

How many small businesses are there and how many people do they employ?

Percent distribution of establishments and employment by size of establishment, private sector, March 2017

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

Highlights:

  • About 69 million workers—57 percent of all private sector workers—were employed in over 9 million small establishments during March 2017.
  • Small establishments make up over 97 percent of all establishments in the nation. The remaining establishments (181,000), those with 100 or more workers, employed over 51 million workers.
  • A whopping 62 percent of establishments fall within the smallest size class, fewer than 5 employees.

“My company, Piedmont Grocery Co., has been a family owned independent purveyor of fine foods and spirits in Oakland, CA since 1902. We use the Bureau’s consumer price indexes to calculate inflation rates that are used to determine incremental rent increases. Without these timely and objective stats, we could potentially be paying more for our rent than is necessary.” --Amy Pence, Vice President (Oakland, California)

In what industries do we find small businesses?

Percentage of private employment in each industry that is in small establishments, March 2017

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

Highlights:

  • Employment in small establishments varies among industries.
  • Real estate and rental and leasing, construction, and wholesale trade have much of their employment in small establishments. It’s more than 80 percent in real estate and rental and leasing.
  • In contrast, 36 percent of manufacturing employment and 43 percent of transportation and warehousing employment are in small establishments.

“QED Consulting provides consulting and training in Leadership, Ethics, Culture, Diversity, & Inclusion to global Fortune 500 companies, governments, and international organizations. We use the Bureau’s data on demographic trends to illustrate the need for organizational policies that make diversity and inclusion work. These objective statistics assist us to help our clients be best in class in terms of diversity and inclusion.” --Alan Richter, Founder and President (New York, New York)

Want to learn more about small businesses? Check out the most recent news release to get all the latest numbers. See our Frequently Asked Questions, or contact us at (202) 691-6567 or by email.

Thank you, small businesses, for your participation and know that we are here to help you in your statistical needs. Happy Small Business Week!

 

Percent distribution of establishments and employment by size of establishment, private sector, March 2017
Establishment size Establishments Employment
Fewer than 5 employees 62% 7%
5–9 employees 15 8
10–19 employees 11 11
20–49 employees 7 18
50–99 employees 2 13
100 or more employees 2 43
Percentage of private employment in each industry that is in small establishments, March 2017
Industry Percent
Real estate and rental and leasing 82%
Construction 74
Wholesale trade 71
Retail trade 64
Services 59
Mining 51
Finance and insurance 51
Transportation and warehousing 43
Manufacturing 36

Earth-friendly Careers for Earth Day 2018

Only 2 more years until we hit the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day! The first Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970. Here at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we track jobs, including jobs that take care of our planet. The Occupational Outlook Handbook provides career information for hundreds of occupations. The Handbook has been around for almost 70 years; the first paperback edition in 1949 cost $1.75!

In honor of Earth Day, here are six earth-friendly career paths to consider:

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

What they do: Monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination, including those affecting public health.

  • 2017 median pay: $45,490 per year
  • Typical entry-level education: Associate’s degree
  • Number of jobs in 2017: 32,840
  • Projected growth 2016–26: 12% (Faster than average)

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

What they do: Manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.Conservation scientist

  • 2017 median pay: $60,970 per year
  • Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Number of jobs in 2017: 30,340
  • Projected growth 2016–26: 6% (As fast as average)

 

 

 

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

What they do: Study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems and the impact humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

  • 2017 median pay: $62,290 per year
  • Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Number of jobs in 2017: 17,710
  • Projected growth 2016–26: 8% (As fast as average)

Environmental Engineers

What they do: Use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

  • 2017 median pay: $86,800 per year
  • Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Number of jobs in 2017: 52,640
  • Projected growth 2016–26: 8% (As fast as average)

Microbiologists

What they do: Study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.Microbiologists

  • 2017 median pay: $69,960 per year
  • Typical entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Number of jobs in 2017: 21,870
  • Projected growth 2016–26: 8% (As fast as average)

 

 

 

Urban and Regional Planners

What they do: Develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.Urban planner

  • 2017 median pay: $71,490 per year
  • Typical entry-level education: Master’s degree
  • Number of jobs in 2017: 35,310
  • Projected growth 2016–26: 13% (Faster than average)

 

 

 

You can explore hundreds of occupations using our Occupational Outlook Handbook. For a larger list of new and emerging earth-friendly or “green” jobs, visit the Department of Labor’s O*Net Resource Center.

 

Reaching out to Stakeholders—and Steakholders—in Philadelphia

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has staff around the country who serve several critical roles:

  • Contacting employers and households to collect the vital economic information published by BLS
  • Working with partners in the states who also collect and review economic data
  • Analyzing and publishing regional, state, and local data and providing information to a wide variety of stakeholders

To expand the network of local stakeholders who are familiar with and use BLS data to help make good decisions, the BLS regional offices sponsor periodic Data User Conferences. The BLS office in Philadelphia recently held such an event, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

These Data User Conferences typically bring together experts from several broad topic areas. In Philadelphia, participants heard about trends in productivity measures; a mash-up of information on a single occupation—truck drivers—that shows the range of data available (pay and benefits, occupational requirements, and workplace safety); and an analysis of declines in labor force participation.

Typically, these events provide a mix of national and local data and try to include some timely local information. The Philadelphia conference included references to the recent Super Bowl victory by the Philadelphia Eagles and showed how to use the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to compare buying power between 1960 (the last time the Eagles won the NFL Championship) and today.

We also tried to develop a cheesesteak index, a Philadelphia staple. Using data from the February 2018 Consumer Price Index, we can find the change in the price of cheesesteak ingredients over the past year.

Ingredient Change in Consumer Price Index, February 2017 to February 2018
White bread 2.5 percent decrease
Beef and veal 2.1 percent increase
Fresh vegetables 2.1 percent increase
Cheese and related products 0.8 percent decrease

Image of a Philadelphia cheesesteak

These data are for the nation as a whole and are available monthly. Consumer price data are also available for many metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia. These local data are typically available every other month and do not provide as much detail as the national data.

While the Data User Conferences focus on providing information, we also remind attendees the information is only available thanks to the voluntary cooperation of employers and households. The people who attend the conferences can help us produce gold standard data by cooperating with our data-collection efforts. In return we remind them we always have “live” economists available in their local BLS information office to answer questions by phone or email or help them find data quickly.

Although yet another Nor’easter storm was approaching, the recent Philadelphia Data User Conference included an enthusiastic audience who asked good questions and left with a greater understanding of BLS statistics. The next stop on the Data User Conference tour is Atlanta, later this year. Keep an eye on the BLS Southeast Regional Office webpage for more information.

Why This Counts: Maximizing Our Data Using the Consumer Expenditure Survey

Almost all BLS statistical programs are based on information respondents voluntarily give us. We want to squeeze as much information as we can out of the data respondents generously provide. Limiting respondent burden while producing gold-standard data is central to our mission.

Let’s take a look at how one program, the Consumer Expenditure (CE) Survey, squeezes every last drop of information from the data to provide you, our customers, with more relevant information.

What is the Consumer Expenditure Survey?

The CE survey is a nationwide household survey that shows how U.S. consumers spend their money. It collects information from America’s families on their buying habits (expenditures), income, and household characteristics (age, sex, race, education, and so forth). For example, we publish what percentage of consumers bought bacon or ice cream and how much they spent on average.

A little back story: The first nationwide expenditure survey began in 1888. BLS was founded in 1884, so the CE Survey is one of our first surveys! It wasn’t until 1980 that we began publishing CE data each year, however. A 2010 article, The Consumer Expenditure Survey—30 Years as a Continuous Survey, provides more historical information.

How is the CE program doing more with what we have?

We’ll briefly look at four different areas, starting with the most recent improvements:

  • Limited state data
  • Higher-income data
  • Generational data
  • Estimating taxes

Limited State Data – Starting with New Jersey

  • Regarding geographical information, the CE survey is designed to produce national statistics. Enough sample data are available to produce estimates for census regions and for a few metropolitan areas.
  • Up to now, however, we did not produce state data. The CE program recently published state weights for New Jersey, which will allow for valid survey estimates at the state level for the first time.
  • State-level weights are available for states with a sample size that is large enough and meet other sampling conditions.
  • Right now, the state-level weighting is experimental. We provide state-level weights to data users to gauge interest and usefulness.

 Higher-Income Table

  • We evaluated the income ranges of the published tables and found that over time more and more households were earning more, and the top income range had not increased to keep pace. To provide greater detail, we divided the existing top income range of “$150,000 and over” into two new ranges: “$150,000 to $199,999” and “$200,000 and over.” We integrated these changes into the 2014 annual “Income before taxes” research table, allowing more robust analysis for our data users.
  • In addition, we added four new experimental cross-tabulated tables on income without the need for additional information from our respondents.

Generational Table

Grouping respondent information by age cohort can be helpful, since a person’s age can help to predict differences in buying attitudes and behaviors. The CE program has collected age data for years, but never grouped the data into generational cohorts before. A Pew Research Center report defines five generations for people born between these dates:

  • Millennial Generation: 1981 or later
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980
  • Baby Boomers: 1946 to 1964
  • Silent Generation: 1928 to 1945
  • Greatest Generation: 1927 or earlier

The 2016 annual generational table shows our most recent age information for the “reference person” or the person identified as owning or renting the home included in the CE Survey. In 2016 we wrote a short article on Spending Habits by Generation, including a video, which used 2015 data. We’ve updated the chart using 2016 data:

A chart showing consumer spending patterns by generation in 2016.

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

Estimating Taxes

CE respondents used to provide federal and state income tax information as part of the survey. These questions were difficult for respondents to answer.

Starting in 2013, the CE program estimated federal and state tax information using the TaxSim model from the National Bureau of Economic Research and removed the tax questions from the survey. As a result, the quality and consistency of the data increased, and we have reduced respondent burden!

If you have any questions or want more information, our staff of experts is always around to help! Please feel free to contact us.

This is just one example of how we at BLS are always looking for ways to maximize our value while being ever mindful of the costs—and one of those important costs is the burden our data collection efforts place on our respondents. Maximizing our data means providing gold-standard data to the public while reducing the burden on our respondents—a true win-win!

Annual consumer spending by generation of reference person, 2016
Item Millennials, 1981 to now Generation X, 1965 to 1980 Baby Boomers, 1946 to 1964 Silent Generation, 1928 to 1945 Greatest Generation, 1927 or earlier
Food at home $3,370 $4,830 $4,224 $3,450 $2,023
Food away from home 2,946 4,040 3,100 2,042 1,095
Housing 16,959 22,669 18,917 14,417 17,858
Apparel and services 1,753 2,577 1,602 920 615
Transportation 8,426 10,545 9,762 5,952 3,142
Healthcare 2,473 4,492 5,492 6,197 5,263
Entertainment 2,311 3,613 3,144 2,114 1,223
All other spending 10,338 15,766 14,963 6,671 4,125