Topic Archives: Inflation and Prices

BLS Learns from Civic Digital Fellows

In the few months that I’ve had the pleasure of occupying the Commissioner’s seat at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s been clear that I’m surrounded by a smart, dedicated, and innovative staff who collect and publish high-quality information while working to improve our products and services to meet the needs of customers today and tomorrow. And soon after I arrived, we added to that high-quality staff by welcoming a cadre of Civic Digital Fellows to join us for the summer.

In its third year, the Civic Digital Fellowship program was designed by college students for college students who wanted to put their data science skills to use helping federal agencies solve problems, introduce innovations, and modernize functions. This year, the program brought 55 fellows to DC and placed them in 6 agencies – Census Bureau, Citizenship and Immigration Service, General Services Administration, Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, and BLS. From their website:

Civic Digital Fellowship logo describing the program as "A first-of-its-kind technology, data science, and design internship program for innovative students to solve pressing problems in federal agencies."

BLS hosted 9 Civic Digital Fellows for summer 2019. Here are some of their activities.

  • Classification of data is a big job at BLS. Almost all of our statistics are grouped by some classification system, such as industry, occupation, product code, or type of workplace injury. Often the source data for this information is unstructured text, which must then be translated into codes. This can be a tedious, manual task, but not for Civic Digital Fellows. Andres worked on a machine learning project that took employer files and classified detailed product names (such as cereal, meat, and milk from a grocery store) into categories used in the Producer Price Index. Vinesh took employer payroll listings with very specific job titles and identified occupational classifications used in the Occupational Employment Statistics program. And Michell used machine learning to translate purchases recorded by households in the Consumer Expenditure Diary Survey into codes for specific goods and services.
  • We are always looking to improve the experience of customers who use BLS information, and the Civic Digital Fellows provided a leg up on some of those activities. Daniel used R and Python to create a dashboard that pulled together customer experience information, including phone calls and emails, internet page views, social media comments, and responses to satisfaction surveys. Olivia used natural language processing to develop a text generation application to automatically write text for BLS news releases. Her system expands on previous efforts by identifying and describing trends in data over time.
  • BLS staff spend a lot of time reviewing data before the information ends up being published. While such review is more automated than in the past, the Civic Digital Fellows showed us some techniques that can revolutionize the process. Avena used Random Forest techniques to help determine which individual prices collected for the Consumer Price Index may need additional review.
  • Finally, BLS is always on the lookout for additional sources of data, to provide new products and services, improve quality, or reduce burden on respondents (employers and households). Christina experimented with unit value data to determine the effect on export price movements in the International Price Program. Somya and Rebecca worked on separate projects that both used external data sources to improve and expand autocoding within the Occupational Requirements Survey. Somya looked at data from a private vendor to help classify jobs, while Rebecca looked at data from a government source to help classify work tasks.

The Civic Digital Fellows who worked at BLS in summer 2019

Our cadre of fellows has completed their work at BLS, with some entering grad school and the working world. But they left a lasting legacy. They’ve gotten some publicity for their efforts. Following their well-attended “demo day” in the lobby at BLS headquarters, some of their presentations and computer programs are available to the world on GitHub.

I think what most impressed me about this impressive bunch of fellows was the way they grasped the issues facing BLS and focused their work on making improvements. I will paraphrase one fellow who said “I don’t want to just do machine learning. I want to apply my skills to solve a problem.” Another heaped praise on BLS supervisors for “letting her run” with a project with few constraints. We are following up on all of the summer projects and have plans for further research and implementation.

We ended the summer by providing the fellows with some information about federal job opportunities. I have no doubt that these bright young minds will have many opportunities, but I also saw an interest in putting their skills to work on real issues facing government agencies like BLS. I look forward to seeing them shine, whether at BLS or wherever they end up. I know they will be successful.

And, we are already making plans to host another group of Civic Digital Fellows next summer.

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

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.

Productivity

  • 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

Unionization

  • 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.

Education

  • 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.

Baseball, Hot Dogs, and Statistics

Summer is in full swing, which means that when I’m not talking about BLS data, I’m talking about baseball, something I could do full time. Luckily these two topics have a lot in common; nothing quite says statistics in the summertime like baseball does. We fans have followed baseball statistics for nearly as long as the game has been played. Teams today increasingly use statistics—or “analytics”—to decide which players to add to their rosters, who to play in any game situation, and even where to position fielders for certain batters. That’s a lot like the innovations BLS and the other federal statistical agencies focus on to help people make informed decisions for their families, businesses, and the broader economy.

I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the mid-1960s, when the lamentable Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland and the American League expansion team, Kansas City Royals, brought winning baseball to Kansas. I had a second home, as it were, in the seats of Kauffman Stadium, or “The K” to us Kansas City Royals fans. Today I cheer for the Washington Nationals, having lived in the D.C. area for the past 25 years. Regardless of your favorite team, if you’re a baseball fan you know statistics are a huge part of how your team performs. While I could talk about George Brett’s batting average, home runs, or wins above replacement, let’s instead look at where America’s agency on labor data meets America’s favorite pastime.

Spectator sports employed over 144,000 workers in 2018. The map below shows the metropolitan areas with the most jobs in spectator sports. The New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA metro area, home of the Yankees and Mets, employs the most people at 8,674. Spectator sports include all professional and semi-professional sport teams.

Employment in spectator sports by metropolitan area, 2018

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

Also consider the Occupational Employment Statistics program. In 2018, there were 27,780 radio and television announcers and 7,480 public address announcers. There were also 236,970 coaches and scouts and 19,090 umpires and referees in 2018.

Here’s a look at some of the occupations within the spectator sports industry:

Employment in selected occupations in the spectator sports industry, May 2018

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

If you’re going to the game, the Consumer Price Index can tell you how prices have changed over time. For example, ticket prices for sporting events decreased 0.8 percent from June 2018 to June 2019. Over the same period, parking fees and tolls increased 3.2 percent and prices for food away from home increased 3.1 percent. At the low end of the increases is beer away from home—a modest 0.8 increase over the year.

Or maybe you just decide to enjoy the game in front of your new 80-inch flat screen TV. You aren’t alone. According to the American Time Use Survey, Americans spend, on average, 2.84 hours a day watching television in 2017. That’s almost enough time to watch your typical 9-inning baseball game.

Can we squeeze any more baseball out of BLS statistics? There’s wage data for ushers, occupational injuries for umpires, and productivity in certain recreation industries. But we’ll save that for another day. For now, sit back and enjoy the game. Play Ball!

Employment in spectator sports by metropolitan area, 2018
Metropolitan area Employment
Abilene, TX 14
Akron, OH 215
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 537
Albuquerque, NM 241
Anchorage, AK 204
Ann Arbor, MI 84
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 1,948
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 314
Austin-Round Rock, TX 1,071
Bakersfield, CA 229
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD 1,872
Bangor, ME 32
Barnstable Town, MA 9
Baton Rouge, LA 15
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX 5
Billings, MT 78
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 372
Bloomington, IL 54
Boulder, CO 22
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 83
Burlington-South Burlington, VT 92
Canton-Massillon, OH 13
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 718
Charleston, WV 118
Charleston-North Charleston, SC 256
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC 6,081
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 4,763
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 1,473
Cleveland-Elyria, OH 2,019
Coeur d’Alene, ID 36
College Station-Bryan, TX 20
Colorado Springs, CO 214
Columbia, SC 383
Columbus, OH 813
Corpus Christi, TX 153
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 3,392
Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL 1,294
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 999
Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 375
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI 1,682
Dover, DE 222
Dubuque, IA 72
Duluth, MN-WI 75
El Paso, TX 269
Erie, PA 105
Eugene, OR 67
Evansville, IN-KY 209
Fairbanks, AK 29
Flint, MI 6
Florence, SC 43
Fort Collins, CO 4
Fresno, CA 542
Grand Junction, CO 67
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 234
Great Falls, MT 72
Greeley, CO 96
Greenville, NC 54
Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC 234
Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS 121
Hagerstown-Martinsburg, MD-WV 21
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 316
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 233
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC 111
Hot Springs, AR 665
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 2,968
Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH 27
Huntsville, AL 47
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN 2,786
Jacksonville, FL 1,397
Janesville-Beloit, WI 52
Joplin, MO 11
Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI 3
Kansas City, MO-KS 1,737
Kennewick-Richland, WA 84
Lake Charles, LA 11
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 387
Lancaster, PA 160
Las Cruces, NM 18
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 835
Lebanon, PA 16
Lexington-Fayette, KY 1,556
Lincoln, NE 172
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 148
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 7,100
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN 1,337
Lubbock, TX 12
Manchester-Nashua, NH 144
Medford, OR 23
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 1,349
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 6,476
Midland, TX 99
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 2,218
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 3,337
Missoula, MT 20
Mobile, AL 79
Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC 171
Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL 23
Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN 721
New Orleans-Metairie, LA 1,522
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 8,674
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL 549
Norwich-New London, CT 85
Ocala, FL 490
Ogden-Clearfield, UT 120
Oklahoma City, OK 1,227
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 82
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 301
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 4,398
Pittsburgh, PA 1,603
Pittsfield, MA 21
Portland-South Portland, ME 317
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 1,042
Providence-Warwick, RI-MA 348
Raleigh, NC 1,339
Reading, PA 198
Richmond, VA 381
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 688
Roanoke, VA 98
Rochester, NY 676
Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA 957
Salem, OR 56
Salisbury, MD-DE 138
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 757
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 1,720
Santa Rosa, CA 223
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 3,176
Sherman-Denison, TX 6
Sioux Falls, SD 138
Spartanburg, SC 15
Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA 209
St. George, UT 20
St. Joseph, MO-KS 13
St. Louis, MO-IL 1,608
State College, PA 75
Stockton-Lodi, CA 130
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 3,302
Trenton, NJ 159
Tucson, AZ 83
Tulsa, OK 281
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 148
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 2,931
Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA 65
Watertown-Fort Drum, NY 15
Wausau, WI 34
Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH 18
Wheeling, WV-OH 47
Winston-Salem, NC 414
Worcester, MA-CT 97
Yakima, WA 21
York-Hanover, PA 156
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 84
Yuba City, CA 34
Employment in selected occupations in the spectator sports industry, May 2018
Occupation Employment
Security guards 8,490
Ushers 7,610
Food and beverage servers 6,980
Groundskeepers 2,350
Parking lot attendants 1,850

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.

What Happened to Natural Gas Prices at the End of 2018?

Natural gas prices mirrored a rollercoaster during the last few months — lots of ups and downs. Let’s explore why. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes many indexes that measure changes in prices for natural gas. Producer Price Indexes and Import Price Indexes tell us about these and other price movements faced by U.S. businesses. Natural gas is critical to the U.S. economy, and changes in natural gas prices can have a large impact on our daily lives. You may use natural gas for cooking or heating your home, but did you know these facts about natural gas?

  • Natural gas has surpassed coal as the largest source of electricity generation in the United States.
  • The United States has become the world’s largest natural gas producer and consumer.
  • Natural gas consumption in the United States reached historic highs in 2018.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas production reached record levels in 2018, driven by improved drilling techniques (such as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”), more wells, and increased crude oil production. Natural gas can be produced either through direct extraction or as a byproduct of crude oil drilling. With more production, we might expect prices to fall because more natural gas is available on the market. Natural gas prices increased sharply in the fourth quarter of 2018, however.

Let’s look at that rollercoaster of natural gas prices. In the early part of 2018, normal seasonal fluctuations and increased production pushed natural gas prices down. However, higher U.S. demand limited the decline in prices. Prices leveled off somewhat during the spring and summer months. Over the final 3 months of 2018, U.S. import prices for natural gas increased by 138.8 percent, the largest quarterly increase since the index began in 1982. Likewise, producer prices for natural gas increased by 90.2 percent over the same period.

U.S. import and domestic producer price indexes for natural gas, December 2017 to January 2019

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

There were many reasons prices rose sharply in the last 3 months of 2018. The industrial and electric power sectors are the biggest users of natural gas. The record-high natural gas consumption in the United States in 2018 was driven by record-high demand from the electric power sector. Despite record production in 2018, natural gas storage stocks hit a 16-year low by the end of the year. More domestic consumption and increased exports cut into the natural gas inventory. That pushed prices up starting in October, but there were other reasons prices rose.

An explosion of a major Canadian natural gas pipeline disrupted supply in mid-October. This explosion sharply limited U.S. imports of natural gas from Western Canada and reduced natural gas supply in the Northwest United States. Natural gas distributors asked customers to restrain usage, but import prices still rose. In November, imports from the pipeline grew to about half the amount before the explosion. Even though the natural gas supply from the pipeline moved toward full capacity in December, the demand for natural gas kept upward pressure on prices.

California also experienced natural gas pipeline capacity and storage issues later in the year. Those issues pushed prices up for the entire West Coast region during the fourth quarter of 2018.

Domestically, the increased demand for natural gas over the year resulted in the fourth lowest volume added into working stocks during the refill season since 2005. The refill season, typically April through October, is when natural gas supply typically outpaces demand, allowing working stocks to grow for the upcoming winter season. By November’s end, working gas stocks in the lower 48 states were below 3 trillion cubic feet for the first time since 2002 because of the depletion over the year. This lower supply, coupled with reduced imports, pushed domestic prices up as demand grew from electricity generation and heating needs from severe cold weather in most regions of the country.

Prices then fell in January 2019. Import prices for natural gas decreased by 44.2 percent in January, and producer prices fell 32.2 percent. Imported natural gas from Western Canada returned to more normal levels in the first half of January. As a result, natural gas supply caught up to demand, pushing prices lower. In addition, warmer-than-average temperatures during the beginning of January limited demand for natural gas, also placing downward pressure on prices.

Want to learn more?

U.S. import and domestic producer price indexes for natural gas
Month Domestic producer prices U.S. import prices
Dec 2017 100.0 100.0
Jan 2018 96.5 113.4
Feb 2018 107.5 95.8
Mar 2018 80.6 85.8
Apr 2018 82.3 84.2
May 2018 85.8 63.4
Jun 2018 88.3 60.0
Jul 2018 90.3 72.9
Aug 2018 89.1 69.3
Sep 2018 89.9 68.1
Oct 2018 90.5 80.3
Nov 2018 104.0 128.6
Dec 2018 171.0 162.7
Jan 2019 115.9 90.7