Topic Archives: Educational Attainment

Let’s Celebrate the Productive U.S. Workforce

Earlier this month our nation celebrated Labor Day. We celebrate Labor Day for many good reasons, but one of the best is to appreciate, even for just one day, how amazingly productive our nation’s workforce is. As we shop online or in stores, we rarely stop to think about the skills and effort it takes to produce our goods and services. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that productivity and the progress we have seen in the last few years.

Indeed, productivity of labor is at the heart of the American economy. How much workers produce for each hour they labor and how efficiently they use resources determines the pace of economic growth and the volume of goods that supply everyone (workers included) with the products and services that shape our daily lives. Growing productivity means that our standard of living very likely is improving.

Our workers are very productive. On average, each U.S. worker produced goods and services worth $129,755 last year. That’s compared with the next largest world economies: Germany at $99,377; the United Kingdom at $93,226; Japan at $78,615; China at $32,553; and India at $19,555.

Despite our great reliance on rising productivity to attain the good things of life, academics and researchers still marvel at the mysteries that surround the subject. What drives productivity change? What are the key factors behind these international differences in output per worker?

For example, does the quality of labor alone determine the rate of productivity growth? It is certainly a component of what drives labor productivity, although some countries have high educational and training levels but low productivity per worker. Labor quality has been steadily rising in the United States, but we don’t know the impact on productivity as the baby boomers retire and are replaced.

What is the right mix of labor and technology needed for changing the productivity growth rate? How can we measure the value of the dignity of work, or the personal and social value that work yields? And, what is the role of technical knowledge and product design in determining the productivity of labor?

Then there’s the mysterious role of innovation. Economists think they know that invention and scientific breakthroughs can make massive changes to productivity. However, which innovations transform productivity, and have all the low-lying fruits of productivity enhancement already been harvested?

Despite our strong international showing, analysts who watch these data may be a tad bit concerned with the sluggishness in U.S. productivity growth over the past 10 years. Since 2011, the rate of growth in labor productivity has slowed to one-third of the pace shown between 2000 and 2008, despite acceleration in the past 2 years. Even when we broaden the concept of productivity to include the output attributable to the combination of labor and other productive factors (also known as multifactor productivity), the rate of growth is still one-third of the pace it was in the first decade of this century.

Even with a subsidence in the growth rate, it is worth noting that both labor input and output are on the rise. Since the start of the current business cycle expansion in 2009, the rate of growth in labor input has been five times what it was prior to the Great Recession during the previous expansion.

Output has also grown steadily, but at a slower rate than hours. Because labor productivity is the quotient of output divided by hours, productivity can slow even when both components are rising. The relationship between the relative growth of output and hours is one of the many features that makes productivity both challenging and fascinating to study.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics engages with an extensive network of researchers in and out of the academic community whose mission is, like ours, to better understand and measure the productivity of the U.S. labor force. Labor productivity is an amazing subject because it incorporates so many facets of the nation’s economy into one statistic. By peeling back layers and looking at the details behind the summary number, we can gain valuable insight on the hours and output of our nation’s workforce. We will continue to produce and provide context for these valuable statistics that help tell the story of America’s workers.

That said, we should never lose sight of the big picture. America’s workers lead the world in their capacity to create the goods and services that define our economy and improve our lives. And that, certainly, is something great to celebrate!

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 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.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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.

Why This Counts: Measuring Occupational Requirements

You probably know that BLS publishes data and analysis about employment, unemployment, job openings, earnings, productivity, occupational safety and health, and more. But did you know we also publish information about how often workers have to lift objects; the maximum weight they lift or carry; whether they work in extreme heat or cold; and how much training and experience they need for a job? We call these characteristics “occupational requirements.”

What are occupational requirements?

The Occupational Requirements Survey provides information about the requirements of jobs:

  • Physical demands of work, such as keyboarding, reaching overhead, lifting or carrying
  • Environmental conditions, such as extreme heat, exposure to outdoors, proximity to moving parts
  • Education, training, and experience requirements, such as prior work experience, on-the-job training, and license requirements
  • Cognitive and mental requirements, such as interaction with other people, independence of work, and the amount of review

How did BLS get into doing this survey?

This survey is one of our newest statistical programs; we first published data on December 1, 2016.

The Social Security Administration asked us to help them obtain accurate and current data to use in their disability programs. They are developing an Occupational Information System, which will use data from the Occupational Requirements Survey. That means the survey is crucial for Social Security to manage their disability programs fairly and efficiently.

How can I use occupational requirements information?

Users of Occupational Requirements Survey data include:

  • Researchers exploring occupational change
  • Jobseekers and students
  • Government agencies evaluating skill gaps
  • People with disabilities and their advocates

Let’s discuss a couple of examples to show you what I mean.

Educational requirements

You may want to know the minimum formal education requirements for jobs. The survey has a stat for that! In 2018, a high school diploma was required for jobs covering 40.7 percent of workers, while 17.9 percent had a bachelor’s degree requirement. The chart below shows the percent of jobs by minimum education requirement.

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018

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

We have more information on education, training, and experience. The 2018 news release showed that on-the-job training was required for about 77 percent of workers, and the average duration was 34 days.

We also have information on preparation time, which includes minimum formal education, training, and work experience a typical worker needs to perform a job. Preparation time between 4 hours and 1 month was required for 31.5 percent of workers.

Environmental Conditions

Is the noise level at your workplace closer to a library (quiet) or a rock concert (very loud)? For some jobseekers, understanding the noise level and other environmental conditions might be extremely important as they evaluate job options. The chart below provides examples of the noise intensity in different occupations.

Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018

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

Examples of work environments with different noise intensity levels include:

  • Quiet: private office, a golf course, or art museum
  • Moderate: department stores, business office, or fast food restaurant
  • Loud: manufacturing plant, atop large earth moving equipment, or jobs next to the highway
  • Very loud: rock concert venues, working with jack hammers, or rocket testing areas

How do we collect job requirement data?

To collect job requirement data, our field economists ask business owners, human resource professionals, worker safety officers, and supervisors to collect requirements of work. Field economists do not use paper or online questionnaires to collect these data; instead, they rely on a conversational interviews and descriptive documents, such as task lists, to collect information on occupational requirements.

How are we improving the survey?

Survey scope: Since it began, we have continued to refine the survey to improve its accuracy. In the third year of collection, we redefined the survey scope to focus on critical job functions—that is, the reason the job exists.

Survey content: Beginning with the current sample in collection, we added questions about cognitive and mental requirements. The Social Security Administration asked for this change so we can provide information on the requirements for workers to adapt to changes in the pace of work, solve problems, and interact with others.

Sample: The survey sample is collected over a 5-year period. That will provide the large amount of data necessary to publish information about detailed occupations. We have revised the sampling process to ensure we collect information about less common occupations.

Website: We recently improved the web layout to make it easier for users to find the data they want.

Where is more information?

We have data for occupational groups and occupations through the Occupational Profiles. All data are available through the public data tools. For concepts, methods, and history of the survey see the Handbook of Methods or visit our homepage.

Let us know if you have questions or comments about occupational requirements:

  • Email
  • Phone: (202) 691-6199

Use these gold-standard data to learn more about your job requirements or to find out about new ones. Whatever your occupational requirements question, “We have a stat for that!”

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018
Education requirement Percent
No minimum education requirement 31.5%
High school diploma 40.7
Associate’s degree 3.8
Associate’s vocational degree 2.1
Bachelor’s degree 17.9
Master’s degree 2.3
Professional degree 0.9
Doctorate degree 0.5
Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018
Occupation Quiet Moderate Loud
Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists 49.0% 51.0%
Computer programmers 60.1
Construction laborers 48.6 51.4
Electricians 49.0 51.0
Highway maintenance workers 46.2 53.8
Home health aides 54.1 45.9
Library technicians 56.0
Medical transcriptionists 68.7
Paralegals and legal assistants 66.5 33.5
Welders, cutters, and welder fitters 48.2 50.9

How Are Our Older Workers Doing?

May is Older Americans Month. Who are we calling old?

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for one. Next month we will celebrate our 135th birthday. Now that’s old! And we’ve been providing gold-standard information the entire time.
  • Today we are focusing on people age 65 and older.

In honor of Older Americans Month, let’s examine some fast facts about older workers. Many of these facts look over the last 30 years.


  • For workers age 65 and older, employment tripled from 1988 to 2018, while employment among younger workers grew by about a third.
  • Between 1988 and 2018, employment growth for women age 65 and older outpaced that for men.
  • Among people age 75 and older, the number of employed people nearly quadrupled, increasing from 461,000 in 1988 to 1.8 million in 2018.

Participation in the Labor Force

  • The labor force participation rate for older workers has been rising steadily since the late 1990s. Participation rates for younger age groups either declined or flattened over this period.

Chart showing labor force participation rates for people age 55 and older from 1988 to 2018

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

Employment Projections

  • The total labor force is projected to increase by 6.6 percent from 2016 to 2026, while the number of workers age 65 and older is predicted to rise by 57.6 percent.
  • By 2026, workers age 65 and older are expected to account for 8.6 percent of the total labor force, up from 5.8 percent in 2016.
  • The labor force participation rate of people age 65 and older is projected to increase from 19.3 percent in 2016 to 21.8 percent in 2026. This contrasts with the overall labor force participation rate, which is expected to decrease from 62.8 percent to 61.0 percent.

Work Schedules

  • Over the past 20 years, the number of older workers on full‐time work schedules grew two and a half times faster than the number working part time.
  • Full‐timers now account for a majority among older workers—61 percent in 2018, up from 46 percent in 1998.


  • In 1998, median weekly earnings of older full‐time employees were 77 percent of the median for workers age 16 and up. In 2018, older workers earned 7 percent more than the median for all workers.


  • In 1998, 1 in 5 older workers had less than a high school education. By 2018, fewer than 1 in 10 older workers had less than a high school diploma.
  • The percentage of older workers with a college degree grew from 26 percent in 1998 to 42 percent in 2018.

Safety and Health

  • While fatal occupational injuries to all workers declined 17 percent from 1992 to 2017, workers age 65 and older incurred 66 percent more fatal work injuries in 2017 (775) than they did in 1992 (467).
  • Workers age 65 and older had a fatality rate that was nearly three times the rate for all workers in 2017.

Chart showing fatal injury rates by age from 2013 to 2017

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

Want to know more? These statistical programs contributed data to this blog:

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that!

Labor force participation rates by age, 1988–2018 annual averages
Year 55–64 65–69 70–74 75 and older
1988 54.6 20.1 10.9 4.2
1989 55.5 20.8 11.2 4.3
1990 55.9 21.0 11.3 4.3
1991 55.5 20.6 10.9 4.4
1992 56.2 20.6 11.1 4.5
1993 56.4 20.3 10.9 4.3
1994 56.8 21.9 11.8 5.4
1995 57.2 21.8 12.5 4.7
1996 57.9 21.9 12.5 4.7
1997 58.9 22.5 12.6 4.8
1998 59.3 22.5 12.5 4.7
1999 59.3 23.0 13.1 5.1
2000 59.2 24.5 13.5 5.3
2001 60.4 24.7 14.1 5.2
2002 61.9 26.1 14.0 5.1
2003 62.4 27.4 14.6 5.8
2004 62.3 27.7 15.3 6.1
2005 62.9 28.3 16.3 6.4
2006 63.7 29.0 17.0 6.4
2007 63.8 29.7 17.2 6.8
2008 64.5 30.7 17.8 7.3
2009 64.9 31.1 18.4 7.3
2010 64.9 31.5 18.0 7.4
2011 64.3 32.1 18.8 7.5
2012 64.5 32.1 19.5 7.6
2013 64.4 32.2 19.2 7.9
2014 64.1 31.6 18.9 8.0
2015 63.9 32.1 18.6 8.2
2016 64.1 32.2 19.2 8.4
2017 64.5 32.3 19.7 8.3
2018 65.0 33.0 19.5 8.7
Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age
Year All workers 18 to 19 years 20 to 24 years 25 to 34 years 35 to 44 years 45 to 54 years 55 to 64 years 65 years and over
2013 3.3 2.6 2.2 2.5 2.8 3.4 4.1 9.2
2014 3.4 2.0 2.3 2.4 2.8 3.6 4.3 10.7
2015 3.4 2.1 2.7 2.3 2.7 3.5 4.3 9.4
2016 3.6 1.9 2.4 2.5 3.1 3.5 4.7 9.6
2017 3.5 2.6 2.2 2.5 2.9 3.3 4.6 10.3

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.