Topic Archives: Monthly Labor Review

Visualizing BLS Data to Improve Understanding

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s the value of a striking, cool chart or map of some BLS data? At the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we’re always thinking of better ways to help our users understand the information we produce. The global economy is complex, and the statistics to explain the economy can be complex too.

Data visualizations are one tool we use to present our data more clearly. What are data visualizations? They are any method of presenting numerical information visually—most commonly through charts and maps. Good data visualizations can improve understanding for all types of audiences, from students of all ages to experts with advanced degrees in economics, statistics, or other fields.

In recent years we’ve done more to include data visualizations in nearly all our publications. We have designed two of our publications to showcase data visualizations. One is The Economics Daily—or TED, as we call it. We publish a new edition of TED every business day, and we’ve done that since 1998. Each edition of TED typically includes a chart or map, sometimes two, with a few words to explain the data in the visualization.

Another publication geared toward data visualizations is Spotlight on Statistics. Spotlight tells a longer, more detailed story about a topic through a series of visualizations presented in a slideshow format. As with TED, Spotlight includes brief written analysis to explain more about the data.

Even our publications that feature mostly written analysis often include visualizations to tell a more complete story. Our flagship research journal, the Monthly Labor Review, has evolved a lot over its 100 years of publication to serve readers better; that evolution includes more and better data visualizations. Beyond the Numbers and BLS Reports often include visualizations as well.

We take pride in crafting our words carefully, but good data visualizations can complement the words. For example, during and after the Great Recession, the monthly Employment Situation news release has discussed the historically high levels of long-term unemployment. The number of long-term unemployed—those jobless 27 weeks or longer—has remained high years after the recession ended in June 2009. It’s one thing to read about long-term unemployment, but a good chart can tell the story even more clearly. long-term-unemployment

For an even broader perspective, we have a Spotlight on Statistics that examines long-term unemployment more fully.

Not only have we presented more data visualizations in recent years, but our visualizations also have gotten more sophisticated. A basic image can present information effectively. Take this simple map that shows the proportion of each state’s population age 16 or older that had a job in 2014. state-employment-population ratios

Now check out the interactive version of this map that we published in the March 9, 2015, edition of TED. When you hover over each state, more information pops up to show the state’s employment–population ratio in 2014 and how much it changed from 2013. When you hover over the items in the map legend, the states in each category light up more brightly to help you see the states with similar employment–population ratios. When you click on each state, you go to a webpage that provides even more information about the state’s labor market. Interactive features in our charts and maps give you the power to choose what information you want to see.

If you like the interactive features in our charts and maps, I think you’ll love the animation in some of our visualizations. Animation adds a time dimension to our data to let you see how measures change. For a great example of animation, see a TED we published last year that shows state unemployment rates before, during, and after the Great Recession.

The BLS website will feature even more data visualizations soon. Watch this space to learn more about them.

We share many of our data visualizations on Twitter, so follow us @BLS_gov. You also can sign up to receive email alerts for TED, Spotlight on Statistics, and our other publications.

And if you have created a great visualization of BLS data, please share it with us and the readers of this blog!

Seeking an expert to speak about the labor market and economy?

If you’ve ever visited the Bureau of Labor Statistics website or seen a news story about unemployment, inflation, wages, or some other economic topic, you know that BLS collects and publishes a huge volume of statistics to help inform businesses, workers, policymakers, households, and journalists about labor market and economic conditions in the United States. You also probably know that BLS has many publications that provide analytical insights about the mountains of statistics BLS produces. These publications include hundreds of news releases issued each year from the BLS national office and our regional offices. We also publish the Monthly Labor Review, Beyond the Numbers, our daily feature The Economics Daily, Spotlight on Statistics, and more.

Even if you are an experienced user of BLS data and publications, you may not know about another valuable service we provide: BLS can send an expert to speak at your conference, meeting, or classroom. If you are looking for a knowledgeable person to provide informative presentations about the U.S. labor market and economy, see our BLS Speakers page. Staff from our national office and our eight regional offices are happy to speak about such topics as the following examples:

  • How the government measures unemployment
  • Trends in labor force participation and long-term unemployment
  • How BLS calculates consumer, producer, and import and export prices
  • How many hours Americans work and how they spend their time outside of work
  • How local labor markets fared during and after the 2007–2009 recession
  • Trends in pay and benefits
  • Trends in workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths
  • What labor productivity can tell us about the U.S. economy

Our experts can cover many other topics besides these and even customize topics to meet your needs.

I frequently speak at events myself. For example, in mid-July, I had the pleasure of participating in a lively conference at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The topic of the conference, organized by the Institute for Research on Poverty, was “Building Human Capital and Economic Potential.” My talk described the ways in which BLS statistics inform us about the labor market, reviewed our resources for researchers, and told participants how they can help us.

It certainly was great to be back in Madison, and my BLS colleagues and I always enjoy the talks we give around the country. So if you need a speaker, we’re at your service!

Recent publications and new K-12 Chart Maker tool

It has been another busy week with interesting new BLS publications and products. One item I want to draw your attention to is a Monthly Labor Review article that examines the rise in women’s share of nonfarm employment during the 2007–2009 recession. Back in January 1964, women held 31.7 percent of total nonfarm jobs. Women’s employment has continued to expand over the past half century and accounted for an unprecedented 50.0 percent of all payroll jobs in the last month of the 2007–2009 recession. Women’s share of payroll jobs held at that level for 11 consecutive months and then edged down; as of December 2013, however, that share was still high, at 49.5 percent. The author of the article, BLS economist Catherine Wood, examined trends in women’s and men’s employment during all previous recessions back to the 1969–1970 recession and found that men’s employment always declined at a greater rate than women’s employment. In fact, women’s employment even continued to increase during some recessions, although that was not the case during the 2007–2009 recession. Nevertheless, job losses among men outnumbered those among women by 2.6 to 1 during the most recent recession.

BLS also published a new edition of Spotlight on Statistics this week that presents a series of graphics on trends in income and expenditures during and after the 2007–2009 recession. In 2011, average household income exceeded the 2008 level in nominal terms (that is, without adjusting for price inflation). Similarly, in 2012, average consumer expenditures exceeded 2008 levels. While average income and expenditure levels have returned to prerecession levels, the gains have been distributed unevenly across income quintiles. (Income quintiles are five equally sized groups of households that have been divided from lowest to highest according to their annual income.) Between 2008 and 2012, the highest income quintile accounted for more than 80 percent of the total increase in household income in the United States, while the expenditure increases of the highest income quintile accounted for almost half of the total spending gains across all five quintiles during the same time period.

Last October I highlighted the new BLS K-12 pages, which provide classroom activities, games, quizzes, and more to make learning economics and statistics fun. The pages also provide information to help students learn more about career options. I mentioned that new material would be added to these pages regularly. This week we added a new Chart Maker tool that offers students and teachers a fun way to create interactive line, column, and bar charts.

Finally, I want to mention that we posted new information this week about the fiscal year 2014 budget enacted for BLS. I announced in late February that BLS will curtail the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages and the International Price Program in order to achieve the necessary savings for the 2014 funding level and protect core BLS programs. Since that announcement, discussions have been initiated to explore alternative federal sources of funding to continue producing and publishing the International Price Program export price indexes. BLS will continue to produce and publish these indexes through the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. Once the discussions to explore alternative funding sources are concluded, an announcement will be made concerning how the necessary data will be produced to avoid any disruption to the calculation of real Gross Domestic Product, which relies on the export price data.

New Producer Price Index methodology and latest editions of Beyond the Numbers

I want to tell you about three things this week: A major advance in a BLS Principal Federal Economic Indicator and two analyses that showcase some of the breadth and relevance of the work of BLS.

First, I call your attention to the culmination of a challenging effort to reconfigure and broaden an important economic series so that it can adapt to structural changes in the economy. BLS reported this past Wednesday that the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased 0.2 percent from December 2013 to January 2014 and by 1.2 percent over the 12 months ended in January. This release was the first to present data using new methods to calculate the PPI estimates. The PPI has now transitioned from the Stage of Processing (SOP) to the Final Demand-Intermediate Demand (FD-ID) aggregation system. This new system is the result of a longstanding objective to improve the measures by incorporating indexes for services, construction, government purchases, and exports. In comparison to the SOP system, the FD-ID system more than doubles current PPI coverage of the U.S. economy to over 75 percent of in-scope domestic production. Final demand includes goods, services, and construction which are sold for personal consumption, capital investment, government purchases, and export. Intermediate demand includes goods, services, and maintenance and repair construction sold to businesses, excluding capital investment. You can learn more about the new PPI aggregation system from two articles published recently in the Monthly Labor Review:

BLS also published two very interesting new editions of Beyond the Numbers this week. One examines the persistence of a high unemployment rate in New York City during the recovery from the 2007–2009 recession. From the end of the recession in June 2009 to the end of 2012, the unemployment rate in New York City declined by only 0.6 percentage point, to 8.8 percent. This relatively small drop in the New York City unemployment rate occurred during a period of robust growth in payroll jobs in the city (up 6.2 percent). This article examines the behavior of New York City’s unemployment rate from several perspectives.

The other edition of Beyond the Numbers published this week looks at the extent to which occupations are concentrated within industries. Some occupations are found in nearly every industry in the United States, while others are specific to one or only a few industries. Occupations concentrated in a single industry may require skills that are highly specific to that industry. If workers in these occupations become unemployed, it may be difficult for them to use their skills in other industries. However, workers in more widely distributed occupations may find it easier to transfer their skills in response to job loss. Occupational composition also may affect a growing industry’s ability to attract workers from elsewhere in the economy. For example, industries that rely on specialized, highly qualified workers may find that the high skill and training requirements act as a barrier to entry for displaced workers from other sectors.

Upcoming Producer Price Index methodology changes

When BLS releases the January 2014 Producer Price Index (PPI) on February 19, we will begin using new methods of calculating the estimates. This shift will result in significant changes to the PPI news release and other data and documents available from the PPI program. The PPI will transition from the Stage of Processing (SOP) to the Final Demand-Intermediate Demand (FD-ID) aggregation system. The transition to the new system is the result of a longstanding objective to improve the measures by incorporating indexes for services, construction, government purchases, and exports. In comparison to the SOP system, the FD-ID system more than doubles current PPI coverage of the U.S. economy to over 75 percent of in-scope domestic production. The FD-ID system was introduced as a set of experimental indexes in January 2011. Nearly all new FD-ID goods, services, and construction indexes provide historical data back to either November 2009 or April 2010, while the indexes for goods that correspond with the historical SOP indexes go back to the 1970s or earlier.

These are exciting and important improvements to the measurement of price changes in our economy. Here are links to two articles published this week in the Monthly Labor Review that discuss the new PPI in depth:

I am also pleased to note that Jean Fox, a research psychologist in the BLS Office of Survey Methods Research, was recognized recently by the online publication FierceGovernment for her innovative work on conducting superior surveys that measure user experience. Jean co-chairs the government’s User Experience Community and has been a long-time advocate for user experience—the behaviors and attitudes about using a particular product. You can read more about Jean’s great work at BLS and her mentorship of people in other federal agencies.