Topic Archives: Geographic Information

Celebrating 75 Years of BLS Regional Offices

World War II had a significant impact on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1942, the Office of Price Administration asked BLS to help them understand what was going on with prices and price controls. Price controls? Remember, this was during World War II and there was significant government intervention in markets. Shortly after that, the National War Labor Board asked BLS to conduct surveys and evaluate wage rate increases. These two projects showed the need for local information, not just national averages. Why am I writing about events from World War II? Well, the growing need for local data led BLS to create our regional offices, and we recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. I want to tell you a little about these offices and their rich history.

Today, BLS staff throughout the country collect price and wage data and more. As you can imagine, the uses of these data and the methods for collecting them have changed significantly. Our regional offices collect survey data, work closely with our state partners, and help people find and understand the information they need.

Survey data collection has changed significantly from the 1940s. Today our regional staff throughout the country work with survey respondents to make it as easy as possible to provide accurate information. Modern technology makes it easier to respond to our surveys, but even more important is the close relationships our regional staff have with survey respondents. That high-touch, high-tech approach has proven successful and helped us achieve high response rates.

BLS has a long history of working with states. We wrote about this unique and important partnership back in 2016. Our regional staff work closely with their state colleagues to provide data that are timely, accurate, and relevant to the local economy. We are proud of our partnership with the states.

Finally, each regional office has a small staff of economists dedicated to providing information to the public. These Economic Analysis and Information staff write news releases and other reports that focus on local data. The staff support our data collection efforts through outreach to local business communities and associations. The staff also provide information to people and businesses who use data to make important decisions.

What started as a way to provide analysis on government price controls and wage increases has evolved and blossomed into an integral part of BLS. The pioneering staff from our past and the dedicated staff of today allow us to produce gold standard economic statistics.

Congratulations to the BLS regional offices staff on 75 years of excellent service to the nation!

Trying to Understand an Unusual Employment Report

This column is called the Commissioner’s Corner, but I’m just keeping the seat warm until a new Commissioner is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. More often than not I feel like I’m back in school, having to learn new concepts from scratch. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated BLS employees who go out of their way to make sure things are done correctly and are very patient in helping me to learn new things. That certainly was the case with the September 2017 Employment Situation report, released on October 6.

The turnaround time from data collection to processing to publication of most BLS data series is very short. That’s the case with the monthly employment and unemployment information. I first saw the payroll employment information about 48 hours before we would release it, and my reaction isn’t suitable for a G-rated blog. What happened? The employment information looked so much different from the recent trend. Fortunately, some more information from that dedicated staff helped me to understand what was going on.

If you haven’t heard, it’s hurricane season. And several storms affected the United States in August and September. Evacuations, damaged businesses, and damaged homes have a lot of implications, including for the job market. Let me give you my description of what the data reveal, using (I hope) some nontechnical terms.

The monthly Employment Situation release contains information from two separate surveys—a survey of businesses (called the Current Employment Statistics program) and a survey of households (called the Current Population Survey). We get different information from each survey, but over time they typically tell a consistent story. For example, during the 2007–09 recession, the business survey showed a decline in jobs, while the household survey showed an increase in unemployment. A consistent story.

So what happened in September 2017?

The business survey asks how many workers were paid for any time during the payroll period that includes the 12th of September. An important fact to understand is that people who did not receive pay for the payroll period are not counted as employed. In September, the business survey showed that the number of jobs in “food service and drinking places” (let’s call them restaurants) declined by 105,000 from the previous month. That’s very different from the trend, which has shown consistent job gains. Workers in these jobs are typically paid on an hourly basis and don’t get paid if they don’t work. This large decline in restaurant jobs in turn affected the overall number of jobs, which declined by 33,000.

Chart showing over-the-month change in food services and drinking places employment

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

In contrast, the household survey showed an increase in people who were employed and a decrease in the unemployment rate. Once again, it is important to understand definitions. In this survey, people are counted as employed if they had a job but did not work due to bad weather, whether or not they were paid. So those same restaurant workers who were not paid and therefore not counted in the business survey were counted as employed in the household survey.

And the household survey tells us more. In something we call the “bad weather” series, 1.5 million employed Americans were not at work due to bad weather during the week that included September 12. This is the highest number for that series in over 20 years. In contrast, in September 2016 there were only 24,000 people in this category. The number of “bad weather” workers was unusually high because Hurricane Irma happened to fall during the week that included September 12—the reference period for the survey. The figure was much lower for many other major weather events, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, because those events fell outside the reference period for the survey.

Chart showing the number of people each month with a job in nonagricultural industries but were not at work because of bad weather.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available at https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNU02036012

So what I thought would be a major story turned out to be easily explained by weather events and differing definitions. And it taught me something new about the wide variety of information available from BLS.

One last note. The national information included in the monthly Employment Situation news release does not include data for the U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Data for some territories are included with the State Employment and Unemployment news release, which typically is available a couple weeks after the national data. Want to know about how recent hurricanes have affected BLS data? See our page about Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Over-the-month change in food services and drinking places employment
Month Change
Jan 2014 22,700
Feb 2014 6,500
Mar 2014 61,000
Apr 2014 36,600
May 2014 39,600
Jun 2014 25,000
Jul 2014 13,500
Aug 2014 23,300
Sep 2014 31,400
Oct 2014 24,700
Nov 2014 26,300
Dec 2014 36,400
Jan 2015 17,600
Feb 2015 46,200
Mar 2015 11,600
Apr 2015 37,100
May 2015 33,900
Jun 2015 46,500
Jul 2015 39,700
Aug 2015 26,400
Sep 2015 36,200
Oct 2015 52,900
Nov 2015 30,800
Dec 2015 38,000
Jan 2016 30,000
Feb 2016 28,100
Mar 2016 32,700
Apr 2016 16,900
May 2016 24,600
Jun 2016 21,900
Jul 2016 19,100
Aug 2016 32,300
Sep 2016 20,800
Oct 2016 11,500
Nov 2016 23,700
Dec 2016 14,700
Jan 2017 18,000
Feb 2017 20,600
Mar 2017 27,900
Apr 2017 26,100
May 2017 37,200
Jun 2017 20,500
Jul 2017 52,000
Aug 2017(p) 8,600
Sep 2017(p) -104,700
Footnotes:

(p) = preliminary

Diagnosing “Grey’s Anatomy” with 5 doses of BLS data

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Cross, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrote this post.

A television series that blends the professional and personal stories of doctors, “Grey’s Anatomy” is one of America’s most-watched medical dramas. You may know everything there is to know about McDreamy and McSteamy, but there’s still plenty to learn about other facets of the show.

Here are 5 facts from BLS related to “Grey’s Anatomy.”

  1. The drama is set in a fictional hospital in Seattle, Washington. According to data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, there were 34 general medical and surgical hospitals in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington, metropolitan statistical area in 2016.

Artistic image of doctors and a patient in an operating room.

  1. The show’s doctors and nurses rarely discuss their income or wages, but data from the Occupational Employment Statistics survey offer clues. Those estimates show an average annual wage of $90,780 in May 2016 for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington, metropolitan statistical area. That was more than the average annual wage of $79,160 for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations nationally.

Artistic image of a medical chart, stethoscope, calculator, mobile phone, and money.

  1. The series has been praised for its racially diverse cast, but that small-screen diversity doesn’t always match occupational reality. According to the Current Population Survey, 71.6 percent of employed physicians and surgeons in 2016 were White, which is about on par with the current “Grey’s Anatomy” cast. But 7.5 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States were Black or African American and 19.3 percent were Asian, compared with about 31 percent and 0 percent, respectively, in the current cast. Similarly, 38.2 percent of physicians and surgeons in the United States in 2016 were women, while around half of the drama’s main characters are women.

An artistic image of a diverse group of six doctors.

  1. The show’s writers seem keen on killing off its characters in dramatic fashion. Most of those casualties have involved plot lines away from the hospital, but the few that have occurred onsite may imitate real life. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 7 of the 11 on-the-job fatal injuries for physicians and surgeons nationwide in 2015 were due to intentional violence by other people or self-inflicted injury.

An artistic image of a gravestone with flowers.

  1. Although some characters have met a bleak end, new ones are always being added to the series. Planning for new workers to fill openings may be grounded in fact: Employment Projections data show that about 290,000 job openings for physicians and surgeons are expected between 2014 and 2024. About 190,700 of those openings are projected to replace workers who leave the occupation permanently.

An artistic image of a hospital, ambulance, and medical helicopter.

Why This Counts: How the Consumer Price Index Affects You

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Steve Reed, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Every month, Debi Bertram, an economic assistant in our Philadelphia region, checks the price of milk at a local grocery store. She also goes to several stores to check the prices of items such as toothpaste, sports equipment, and appliances. You may not know Debi—or any of the men and women who collect data for the Bureau of Labor Statistics—but their findings have a real impact on your life.

Among other things, the data are used for making changes in the federal income tax structure and providing cost-of-living wage adjustments for millions of American workers. Additionally, the president, Congress, and the Federal Reserve Board use trends in the data to inform fiscal and monetary policies.

How does it work? BLS data collectors visit or call thousands of locations across the country, from grocery stores to doctors’ offices, to get the prices of about 80,000 different items every month. The data help BLS compile the Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change over time in prices consumers pay for a market basket of goods and services. It is the key measure of consumer inflation in the U.S. economy.

Just got paid

Person's Hand Giving CheckIt’s very possible the CPI helps determine how big your paycheck is. Many employers use the CPI, formally or informally, to decide how much of a cost-of-living raise to give employees. Additionally, many states index their minimum wage by the overall CPI increase. The CPI helps determine how much comes out of your paycheck too, as the IRS uses it to adjust tax bracket thresholds. And many states use CPI data to calculate and adjust workers’ compensation payments.

 

The check’s in the mail

Woman inserting letter into a mailboxMailing a birthday card? The CPI helps determine how much it costs. The Postal Regulatory Commission uses CPI data in the decision about price increases for stamps and postal fees.

 

 

 

 

Back to school

Smiling student eating her lunch.The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services uses CPI data to determine the annual payments and rate adjustments for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The CPI is also consulted to adjust thresholds for eligibility to these programs.

 

 

 

 

Got to pay the rent

Hand holding money with a house in the background.The CPI may even affect where you live. Many landlords tie rent changes to CPI increases; in some cities rent increases for some properties cannot exceed the increase in the CPI. The CPI may also come into play if you want to rent government facilities; the CPI for rent is used to adjust fees for using federal facilities.

You can find out more about how the CPI affects your economic life from the CPI webpage.

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 provided 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