Topic Archives: Labor Force Characteristics

Tracking the Changing Nature of Work: the Process Continues

The days of working the same 9-to-5 job for 40 years are a fading memory. Work today may involve multiple part-time jobs, working from home, obtaining work through a mobile device, and changing jobs frequently. The so-called “changing nature of work” is already here, and at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we are trying to keep up with this new world.

One of our primary sources of information on Americans’ labor market activity is the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of households that provides a real-time snapshot of the share of the population who are employed and unemployed. These data are complemented by other BLS programs that focus on labor turnover, how Americans spend their time, details about local labor markets, and other topics.

But how well do these programs track nontraditional forms of employment, including short-term assignments, platform work, temporary help, and jobs so new and different we haven’t even named them yet? BLS has been working on these issues for many years. Let’s consider a few timely questions and see how BLS has responded.

Not all jobs are permanent. What do we know about jobs that are not expected to last?

Throughout its history, BLS has been exploring perceived changes in the nature of work. For example, an article in the October 1996 Monthly Labor Review described “…reports of corporate downsizing, production streamlining, and increasing use of temporary workers…” as raising questions about “…employers’ commitment to long term, stable employment relationships.” This article, and many others in the same issue, went on to introduce the first “Contingent Worker Supplement” (CWS) to the CPS. Supplements such as this are additional questions on specific topics generally asked once (as opposed to every month) of CPS households.

The CWS asks about jobs that are not expected to last, as well as alternative work arrangements, such as working as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency. While not an ongoing BLS program, we received funding to conduct the supplement in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, and 2017. This allows us to track contingent work over time. In May 2017, there were 5.9 million contingent workers – those who did not expect their job to last. This represented 3.8 percent of the total employed. Twelve years earlier, a slightly higher percentage, 4.1 percent, did not expect their job to last.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs

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

How many people are in different types of jobs, such as independent contractors?

The CWS also included questions to identify people who were in four types of alternative work arrangements:

  • Independent contractors
  • On-call workers
  • Temporary help agency workers
  • Workers provided by contract firms

The most prevalent of these arrangements was independent contractors. The 10.6 million independent contractors identified in May 2017 represented 6.9 percent of the total employed.

Percent of employed in alternative arrangements

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

Does BLS have a measure of the “gig” economy?

BLS does not have a definition of the gig economy or gig workers. In fact, researchers use many different definitions when they talk about the gig economy. You may think of a gig as something your high school band played on a Saturday night. Or today you might consider your ride-share driver as performing a gig. Classifying workers as gig could get very confusing. For example:

  • A plumber or electrician may be on the payroll of a contracting company on the weekdays and obtain individual jobs through an app on the weekend. Gig worker?
  • A substitute teacher in one school district may obtain assignments and pay through traditional means, while the neighboring district assigns and pays workers through an app. Is one a gig worker?

Confused? So am I. To repeat, BLS does not have a definition of gig. Definitions developed by others may overlap with contingent workers and some of those in alternative employment arrangements in the CWS. Rather than try to develop such a definition, BLS chose to focus new questions narrowly, as you will see in the next section.

What about work obtained through an app?

In preparing for the 2017 CWS, and knowing the interest in work obtained through an app on a phone or other mobile device, BLS added four questions about short jobs or tasks that workers find through an app or website that both links them with customers and arranges payment. Separate questions asked about in-person work (such as driving for a ride-sharing company or providing dog-walking services) and online-only work (such as coding medical records). At BLS, we call these jobs “electronically mediated employment.”

While BLS conducted some testing of the questions on electronically mediated employment and vetted them with a variety of stakeholders, the results made it clear that people had difficulty understanding the questions. This effort resulted in many false-positive answers, such as a surgeon who said all of his work was obtained through an app. BLS used companion information, where available, to recode responses. To be completely transparent, BLS published both the original and recoded data, but we encourage data users to focus on the recoded information. These results indicate that 1 percent of the employed in May 2017 – about 1.6 million people – held electronically mediated jobs. A slightly higher number of workers (990,000) held in-person jobs than online-only jobs (701,000). Note that some workers indicated they had both types of jobs.

Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 and older.

Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017

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

Maybe these “app” jobs are a second job. Do we know how many people hold more than one job?

We get information from the CPS each month on the number of workers who hold more than one job. In 2018, there were 7.8 million multiple jobholders – about 5.0 percent of total employment in 2018. That’s around the same share of employment it has been since 2010, but it was below the rates recorded during the mid-1990s, which were above 6.0 percent.

With all these new types of work, is the BLS monthly employment information missing anyone?

As noted, the CPS is an authoritative source of labor market information and has provided consistent data for over three-quarters of a century. But BLS is always looking to improve its measures, and there are other data sources that can supplement the CPS. For example, the American Time Use Survey obtains information about an individual’s activities during a 24-hour period. Among the categories that may be identified are “income-generating activities,” such as making pottery for pay, playing in a band for pay, and mowing lawns for pay.

Recently, BLS looked at people who were not counted as “employed” but who participate in income-generating activities. The research suggested that between 657,000 and 4.6 million people participated in income-generating activities but were not otherwise counted as employed in the survey. Given that total employment is around 155 million Americans, this undercount ranges from 0.4 to 3.0 percent of the total.

The study also examined the extent that employed people who did informal work in addition to a regular job might not be correctly classified as multiple jobholders. The research found that reclassifying workers misclassified as single jobholders would increase the number of multiple jobholders somewhere between 3.0 percent and 20.7 percent.

What more is BLS doing to improve labor market measures?

So, yes, BLS is doing a lot to improve our labor market measures, and the work continues. We know there is likely a small number of people who are not counted as employed yet perform income-generating activities. We know that definitions and concepts may need to be updated from time to time. We know that some terms, like “gig,” are not well defined and mean different things to different people. And we know it is not easy to define or identify electronically mediated employment.

Given all this, we continue to move forward. BLS has contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to convene an expert panel to address these issues and provide recommendations to BLS. This work began in late 2018 with a report due in early 2020. BLS will review the recommendations and, resources permitting, develop plans to test any new concepts or questions.

There’s been interest in emerging types of work for many years. It’s also a moving target, as the “changing nature of work” keeps changing. BLS has provided gold-standard data on America’s labor force for many years and will continue to research and refine and improve.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs
Year Percent of employed
February 1995 4.9%
February 1997 4.4
February 1999 4.3
February 2001 4.0
February 2005 4.1
May 2017 3.8
Percent of employed in alternative arrangements
Alternative arrangement May 2017 February 2005 February 2001 February 1999 February 1997 February 1995
Independent contractors 6.9% 7.4% 6.4% 6.3% 6.7% 6.7%
On-call workers 1.7 1.8 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7
Temporary help agency workers 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0
Workers provided by contract firms 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5
Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017
Workers 16 to 24 years 25 to 54 years 55 years and older
Total employed 12.4% 64.4% 23.1%
Workers with electronically mediated jobs 10.3 71.2 18.5
Electronically mediated jobs, in-person work 7.4 72.5 20.1
Electronically mediated jobs, online work 15.7 69.6 14.8

100 years after World War I: What’s the Labor Market Status of Our Veterans in 2018?

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 — we also want to honor our current veterans.

In honor of Veterans Day, here are our most up-to-date statistics about veterans:

  • In October 2018, 19.1 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about 8 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over.
  • After reaching 9.9 percent in January 2011, the unemployment rate for veterans was 2.9 percent in October 2018. The peak unemployment rate for nonveterans was 10.4 percent in January 2010; their rate was 3.5 percent in October 2018.
  • The unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans—those who served on active duty at any time since September 2001—reached 15.2 percent in January 2011. In October 2018, the unemployment rate for these veterans was 3.1 percent.
  • There were 269,000 unemployed veterans in the United States in October 2018. Eighteen percent of them were ages 18 to 34, 39 percent were ages 35 to 54, and 43 percent were 55 years and over.
  • In the third quarter of 2018, more veterans worked in government than any other industry; 21 percent of all employed veterans worked in federal, state, or local government. By comparison, 13 percent of employed nonveterans worked in government.
  • After government, veterans were most likely to work in manufacturing and in professional and businesses services (about 11 percent each).

Looking for more information on veterans? Check out our page devoted to veterans.

Now, let’s take a look at some data that may help veterans who are looking for work or considering a career change.

Thinking of moving?

In 2017, the unemployment rate for veterans varied across the country, ranging from 1.7 percent in Maine and Vermont to 7.3 percent in Rhode Island.

Map showing unemployment rates for veterans by state, 2017 annual averages

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

Considering different industries?

There were 7.0 million job openings in September 2018. Here’s how they break down by industry.

Chart showing job openings by industry in September 2018

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

Wondering about different jobs?

Thank you, veterans, for your service. As with our armed forces of the past, your service is the foundation of this great nation.

Want more information? Check out our website at www.bls.gov 24/7 or give our information office a call at (202) 691-5200. We also have regional information offices available to help you. BLS has the data YOU need to make wise decisions.

Unemployment rates for veterans by state, 2017 annual averages
State Unemployment rate
Total, 18 years and older 3.7%
Alabama 2.2
Alaska 5.3
Arizona 5.2
Arkansas 4.4
California 4.2
Colorado 3.7
Connecticut 3.4
Delaware 4.0
District of Columbia 6.3
Florida 2.9
Georgia 3.4
Hawaii 3.5
Idaho 3.4
Illinois 4.1
Indiana 2.4
Iowa 5.0
Kansas 2.5
Kentucky 2.0
Louisiana 3.0
Maine 1.7
Maryland 3.3
Massachusetts 2.4
Michigan 3.6
Minnesota 5.1
Mississippi 3.5
Missouri 3.1
Montana 4.4
Nebraska 4.5
Nevada 4.9
New Hampshire 3.3
New Jersey 4.0
New Mexico 3.3
New York 3.9
North Carolina 4.7
North Dakota 2.1
Ohio 3.5
Oklahoma 3.5
Oregon 4.3
Pennsylvania 5.0
Rhode Island 7.3
South Carolina 3.9
South Dakota 2.5
Tennessee 3.5
Texas 3.8
Utah 2.9
Vermont 1.7
Virginia 2.5
Washington 3.2
West Virginia 5.1
Wisconsin 3.3
Wyoming 4.6
Note: Veterans are men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were not on active duty at the time of the survey.
Job openings by industry in September 2018
Industry Job openings
Professional and business services 1,256,000
Health care and social assistance 1,223,000
Accommodation and food services 961,000
Retail trade 756,000
Manufacturing 484,000
State and local government, excluding education 317,000
Transportation, warehousing, and utilities 300,000
Construction 278,000
Finance and insurance 272,000
Other services 243,000
Wholesale trade 237,000
State and local government education 205,000
Information 117,000
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 87,000
Real estate and rental and leasing 84,000
Federal government 79,000
Educational services 76,000
Mining and logging 32,000

Why This Counts: What Does the Future Hold for the Workforce?

You or someone you know may be deciding on a career, whether just starting out in the workforce or looking to change jobs. If so, you may have questions about potential careers. BLS employment projections and our Occupational Outlook Handbook can help answer them.

“Our team highlights the Occupational Outlook Handbook in their workshops and in their individual coaching sessions with students as a key resource for them to explore, expand, and understand all of their options. Our team also uses the information to assess job trends so we can help students prepare for the job market of the future.” — George Washington University, Center for Career Services

Even if you aren’t looking for a career change, you may be interested in a broader picture of the future of the U.S. economy and workforce. You can find this information, and much more, from the Employment Projections program.

What’s a projection and how do you make one?

A projection is an estimate of future conditions or trends based on a study of past and present trends.

Every 2 years, the Employment Projections program publishes 10-year projections of national employment by industry and occupation based on analysis of historical and current economic data. The purpose is to offer some insight into questions about the future growth or decline of industries and occupations.

We use historical and current BLS data primarily from the Current Population Survey, the Current Employment Statistics survey, and the Occupational Employment Statistics survey. You can see an overview of our six-step projections process.

BLS is working toward releasing the projections each year, rather than every 2 years.

See our video on “Understanding BLS Employment Projections.”

What are some data highlights for the 2016–26 projections?

The most recent labor force projections tell us about the impact of the aging of the population.

  • As the large baby-boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) grows older, the overall labor force participation rate is projected to be lower than in previous decades. The labor force participation rate is the share of people working or looking for work. We project the rate to be 61.0 percent in 2026, compared with 62.8 percent in 2016 and 66.2 percent in 2006. This is because older people have lower labor force participation rates than younger age groups.
  • The 55-and-older age group is projected to make up nearly one-quarter of the labor force in 2026, up from 22.4 percent in 2016 and 16.8 percent in 2006.
  • The share held by the youngest age group—ages 16 to 24—is projected to continue to decline as they focus on their education.

Percent distribution of the labor force by age in 1996, 2006, 2016, and projected 2026

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

We can view employment projections in terms of the change in the number of jobs and as a percent change. The projected percent change represents how fast an occupation or industry is projected to grow.

  • The chart below includes the top ten fastest-growing occupations from 2016 to 2026.
  • Five of the occupations are related to healthcare, which makes sense with a population that is growing older.
  • The top two fastest-growing occupations install, repair, and maintain solar panels and wind turbines. These two occupations are small in numbers but are both projected to double in size over the decade, reflecting the current interest in alternative forms of energy.
  • The remaining occupations fall into what is known as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Fastest-growing occupations, projected, 2016–26

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

What other information can you get from the Employment Projections program?

BLS also provides information on the education and training path for occupations. What education do people usually need to enter an occupation? Does the occupation typically need work experience in a related occupation? Is specific on-the-job training typically needed? BLS provides this information for every detailed occupation for which we publish projections. We describe the typical path to entry in the base year of the projections. This education and training information, with the occupational projections and wages, form the basis of the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

“It [the Occupational Outlook Handbook] is a great jumping off point. I use it to go more in depth with students. We look at what the career entails, and which fields really appeal to them.” — Gail Grand, College Counselor, Westlake Village, California

What is the Occupational Outlook Handbook?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook has been around for nearly 70 years, and it is a trusted (and free!) source of career information. It incorporates BLS data and lots of other information about careers, along with tools to find the information you need. Another publication, Career Outlook, is published throughout the year and provides practical information about careers for students, career counselors, jobseekers, and others planning careers.

“The Handbook has been an effective tool during our strategic planning process at the Foundation. We’ve used the data to design an investment strategy that will focus on linking opportunity youth with promising careers in the region. OOH enabled us to sync up resource allocation with program development.” — Kristopher Smith, Foundation for the Mid-South

Want to know about projections for your state or local area?

While BLS makes projections at the national level, each state makes projections for states and local areas. Find information on state projections at Projections Central.

Want more Employment Projections information?

Check out the latest news release. Head to the Frequently Asked Questions to learn more. Or contact the information folks by phone, (202) 691-5700, or email.

Changing jobs or starting a new career is a big decision. Use these gold-standard BLS data to help you make smart decisions, which could help you for years to come. Don’t be a buggy whip maker when everyone is riding in a self-driving car—or a rocket ship!

Percent distribution of the labor force by age
Year 16 to 24 25 to 34 35 to 44 45 to 54 55 and older
1996 15.8% 25.3% 27.3% 19.7% 11.9%
2006 14.8 21.5 23.7 23.2 16.8
2016 13.3 22.3 20.6 21.3 22.5
Projected 2026 11.7 22.1 22.2 19.2 24.8
Fastest-growing occupations, projected, 2016–26
Occupation Percent change
Solar photovoltaic installers 104.9%
Wind turbine service technicians 96.3
Home health aides 47.3
Personal care aides 38.6
Physician assistants 37.3
Nurse practitioners 36.1
Statisticians 33.8
Physical therapist assistants 31.0
Software developers, applications 30.7
Mathematicians 29.7

BLS Measures Electronically Mediated Work

Are you a ride-share driver using a mobile app (like Uber or Lyft) to find customers? Maybe you do household chores or yardwork for others by finding short-term jobs through a website (such as TaskRabbit or Handy) that arranges the payment for your work. Or perhaps you perform online tasks, like taking surveys or adding descriptive keywords to photos or documents through a platform (like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Clickworker). If so, you are an electronically mediated worker. That’s a term BLS uses to identify people who do short jobs or tasks they find through websites or mobile apps that connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks. Have you ever wondered how many people do this kind of work?

BLS decided to find out. In the May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement to the Current Population Survey, we asked people four new questions designed to measure electronically mediated employment.

Measuring electronically mediated work is difficult

After studying respondents’ answers to the new questions and other information we collected about them, we realized the new questions didn’t work as intended. Most people who responded “yes” to the questions clearly had not found their work through a website or app. For example, a vice president of a major bank, a local police officer, and a surgeon at a large hospital all said they had done electronically mediated work on their main job. Many people seemed to think we were asking whether they used a computer or mobile app on their job. That could apply to many jobs that aren’t electronically mediated.

But it wasn’t all for naught. After extensive evaluation, we concluded we could use the other information in the survey about respondents’ jobs to identify and recode erroneous answers. That allowed us to produce meaningful estimates of electronically mediated employment.

So, who does electronically mediated work?

Based on our recoded data, we found that 1.6 million people did electronically mediated work in May 2017. These workers accounted for 1.0 percent of total employment. Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 or older. Electronically mediated workers also were slightly more likely to be Black, and slightly less likely to be White, than workers in general. In addition, electronically mediated workers were more likely than workers overall to work part time (28 percent versus 18 percent).

Workers in the transportation and utilities industry were the most likely to have done electronically mediated work, with 5 percent of workers in this industry having done such work. Self-employed workers were more likely than wage and salary workers to do electronically mediated work (4 percent versus 1 percent).

What’s next?

We currently don’t have plans to collect information on electronically mediated work again. And even if we did, we wouldn’t want to use the same four questions. At the least, we would need to substantially revise the questions so they are easier for people to understand and answer correctly.

Taking a broader look, we are working with the Committee on National Statistics to learn more about what we should measure if we field the survey again. The committee is a federally supported independent organization whose mission is to improve the statistical methods and information on which public policies are based.

How can I get more information?

The data are available on our website, along with an article that details how we developed the questions, evaluated the responses, recoded erroneous answers, and analyzed the final estimates.

If you have a specific question, you might find it in our Frequently Asked Questions. Or you can contact our staff.

Digging Deeper into the Details about the Unemployed

National employment indicators, such as the unemployment rate, get attention as we release them each month. In August 2018, the unemployment rate stood at 3.9 percent, the same as in July. The rate in May, 3.8 percent, was the lowest since 2000. In addition to reporting this headline number, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides considerable detail about those who are employed – and those who are unemployed. Let’s explore.

But first, a reminder. The unemployment rate and details about the unemployed come from the monthly Current Population Survey, a survey of roughly 60,000 households. We collect information about household members age 16 and over. These individuals are counted as “employed” if they say they performed at least one hour of work “for pay or profit” during the reference week, the week including the 12th of the month. People are “unemployed” if they say that during the reference week they (1) had not worked; (2) were available for work; and (3) had actively looked for work (such as submitting a job application or attending a job interview) sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week.

Together, the employed and unemployed make up the “labor force.” The unemployment rate is the share of the labor force who are unemployed. Those who are neither employed nor unemployed are “not in the labor force.” This category includes students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, people with a disability, and others who are not working or actively looking for work.

We have more measures that help to provide a fuller picture of America’s labor force. These include people who work part time but would prefer to work full time. We also count people who have searched for work in the past 12 months but not in the past 4 weeks (and are therefore not counted as unemployed). Further, we count a subset of this group who are not looking because they do not believe work is available for them. People who fall into these categories are included in the alternative measures of labor underutilization, which we publish each month.

Let’s look at the unemployed in more detail. We can sort the unemployed into 4 groups: (1) new entrants to the labor force (such as recent graduates now looking for work); (2) reentrants to the labor force (those who had a job, then left the labor force, and are now looking for work again); (3) job leavers (those who recently left a job voluntarily); and (4) job losers (those who left a job involuntarily, such as getting laid off or fired or completing temporary jobs).

Typically, the largest share of the unemployed are job losers, and this share jumps during economic downturns. While the other categories are less volatile, they make up a larger share of the total as job losers decline. For example, in August 2018, 44 percent of the unemployed were either reentrants or those who recently left a job. The share of the unemployed in both of these categories is higher than in 2009, when job losers accounted for nearly two-thirds of the unemployed. A potential reason for people to reenter the labor market, or leave an existing job to look for another, is that they perceive jobs are readily available. In periods of high unemployment, reentrants make up a smaller proportion of the unemployed. For example, when the unemployment rate reached 10.0 percent in October 2009, reentrants made up only 22 percent of the unemployed. Similarly, in 2009 and 2010, the share of the unemployed who were job leavers (those who quit their jobs voluntarily) was less than 6 percent, about half of the current share.

A chart showing the number of unemployed by the reason for unemployment from 1998 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available from our data-retrieval tool.

Another measure to assess the strength of the labor market is the number of people quitting their job. These data are from our Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That survey asks employers about the number of “separations” over the past month. It classifies separations as either quits (voluntary), layoffs or discharges (not voluntary), or other (including retirements, deaths, and disability). The most recent data, for July 2018, identified 3.6 million quits over the month, an all-time high. (The survey began in 2000.) The quit rate, which divides quits by total employment, was 2.4 percent, also close to a record high.

Most of the time, quits exceed layoffs and discharges, except in periods of high unemployment.

A chart showing the number of people each month who quit their jobs, were laid off or discharged from their job, or separated for other reasons from 2000 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available from our data-retrieval tool.

At any given time, there is a lot of movement in and out of jobs, and in and out of the labor market. And individuals have a variety of reasons for making such moves. But the overall trend in recent years toward individuals coming back into the labor market and voluntarily quitting their jobs suggests that individuals may feel that job opportunities are available.