Topic Archives: Productivity

Labor Day 2017 Fast Facts

Since 1884, ten years before President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been providing gold-standard data for and about American workers.

In honor of Labor Day, let’s take a look at some fast facts we’ve compiled that show 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 62.9 percent in August. The rate has generally been trending down since the early 2000s, although it has leveled off in recent years.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in August. The rate has shown little movement in recent months after declining earlier in the year. The last time the unemployment rate was lower was in 2000 and early 2001.
  • In August, there were 1.7 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 24.7 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and 2007.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 13.6 percent in August, while the rates were 4.1 percent for adult men and 4.0 percent for adult women. The unemployment rate was 7.7 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 5.2 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.0 percent for Asians, and 3.9 percent for Whites. 

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.8 percent between July 2016 and July 2017; adjusted for inflation, real average weekly earnings are up 1.1 percent during this period.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to a majority of private industry workers, where the access rates were 68 percent for sick leave, 76 percent for vacation, and 77 percent for holidays in March 2017.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of private industry workers participated in employer-sponsored medical care benefits in March 2017.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses increased 0.9 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Although productivity is growing at a historically slow pace since the Great Recession, the manufacturing sector recently posted the strongest productivity growth in 21 quarters, growing 2.5 percent in the second quarter of 2017. 

Safety and Health

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 21 percent of employment. 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 11 of the 15 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2014 and 2024, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry.

Unionization

Work Stoppages

  • Over the past four decades, major work stoppages (a strike or lockout) declined approximately 90 percent. From 1977 to 1986 there were 1,446 major work stoppages, while in 2007–16, there were 143.

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.

Now on Video: Finding Better Ways to Talk about Data

Our mission at BLS is to help people understand what’s going on in the labor market and the economy. Since our founding in 1884, we’ve aided that understanding by improving our products. We didn’t start with stone tablets, but we have produced mountains of paper and its electronic equivalent in 133 years. Whether it’s news releases or articles or bulletins, most of our output includes text, tables, and, more recently, graphics. Recently we have added another medium to our library, using video to tell stories about our data. We are pleased to introduce you to “Beth’s Bird Houses,” “What if there were only 100 jobs in the United States,” and more, now available on video.

Why video? Video lets us provide a large amount of information in a shorter time. We know you are busy, and we want to use your time wisely. We will always need written words and tables and charts to provide the details of our economic analyses and survey methods, but video helps us provide the main points more quickly. Video is also easy to share through social media, helping us reach more people.

The first video we produced is about our statistics on productivity. Productivity statistics are among the most technically complex data we produce. Despite their complexity, we believe it’s important to understand productivity statistics because productivity directly affects workers’ pay and the nation’s standard of living. We produced a video that explains in about 2 minutes the essential elements of productivity statistics. How’s that for being productive? Check it out and let us know how you enjoy it.

We recently posted two videos about the Employment Cost Index, which measures changes in the costs to employers of worker pay and benefits. One video explains what the Employment Cost Index is. The other video explains how the Employment Cost Index is used.

Want to know more about the different types of jobs workers have in the United States? What about workplace hazards and the safety of America’s workers? We have new videos on those subjects too, and we expect to keep adding to the list to keep you informed. You can see all of our videos on our video page.

Our customers use BLS information to support their private and public decision making. Our mission is to remain relevant to a diverse set of data users regardless of their technical expertise. We believe it’s important not just to tell people what the numbers are but to explain what they mean and where they come from. Video gives us new opportunities to reach a wider audience with our information. As they say in the movies, roll ‘em.

A Brief Labor Market Update for Labor Day 2016

A diverse group of people in a variety of occupationsIn 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September. This national holiday pays tribute to American workers. A decade before Labor Day existed—since the creation of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1884—we began reporting on how the labor market is faring. So, what’s up as we reach Labor Day 2016?

  • Our monthly payroll survey shows that employment continues to expand—now nearly 6.2 million jobs above the January 2008 peak.
  • Although job growth continues, it has been slower in 2016 than in the last couple of years. The average monthly job gain in 2016 has been 182,000, compared with 229,000 in 2015 and 251,000 in 2014.
  • At 4.9 percent in August, the unemployment rate has changed little since August 2015. During late 2006 and early 2007, the unemployment rate was at its recent low, 4.4 percent. In October 2009, the rate reached 10.0 percent.
  • The number of long-term unemployed people (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 2.0 million in August. That was 26.1 percent of the total unemployed, down from the recent peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010, but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and early 2007.
  • July unemployment rates were uneven among the states. South Dakota (2.8 percent) and New Hampshire (2.9 percent) had the lowest rates, while Alaska (6.7 percent) and Nevada (6.5 percent) had the highest.
  • Among major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 15.7 percent in August, while the rates were 4.5 percent for both adult women and adult men. The August unemployment rate for African Americans was 8.1 percent, compared with 5.6 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.4 percent for Whites, and 4.2 percent for Asians.
  • The labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or seeking work—has been trending down since the early 2000s and even more rapidly since 2008. The rate was 62.8 percent in August 2016, down from rates around 66 percent that prevailed from late 2003 to 2008.
  • Real (adjusted for inflation) average hourly earnings for all employees increased 1.7 percent from July 2015 to July 2016. Real earnings have finally started to grow in 2015 and 2016, after several years of little change.
  • Among workers in private industry, 64 percent had access to paid sick leave in March 2016, and 76 percent had access to paid vacations.
  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses decreased at a 0.6-percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2016. Although labor productivity has fallen recently, it has grown by 330 percent since 1947.
  • There were 4,821 workers in the United States who died from an injury suffered at work in 2014. That was the highest annual total since 2008 but still below the numbers of workplace deaths in the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses has declined over the past several decades in the private sector. The rate in 2014 was 3.2 cases per 100 full-time workers, down from 9.2 cases per 100 full-time workers in 1976.
  • From 2014 to 2024, 7 of the 10 occupations with the fastest projected growth are related to healthcare, but there will be opportunities in a variety of fields.

The U.S. economy is large, complex, and evolving. So, BLS works hard to provide good information to help Americans make better informed decisions. We’ve been doing this for over 130 years and plan to keep serving America’s information needs for many decades to come!

Why This Counts: Productivity and Its Impact on Our Lives

How can we achieve a higher standard of living? One way might simply be to work more, trading some free time for more income. Although working more will increase how much we can produce and purchase, are we better off? Not necessarily. Only if we increase our efficiency—by producing more goods and services without increasing the number of hours we work—can we be sure to increase our standard of living.

That’s why BLS produces labor productivity statistics every quarter that tell us how well we are improving our economic efficiency. These measures compare the amount of goods and services we produce with the number of hours we work. How can we can improve labor productivity? There are many ways. We can use more and newer machinery and equipment. We can develop new technologies that streamline production. We can improve organization and communication in the workplace and manage people more effectively. Or, we can increase worker skills through education or job training.

So, how much has U.S. labor productivity improved over the years? Compared to 1947, we now produce 330 percent more goods and services per hour of work. On average, thanks to advances in technology, education, management, and so on, you can do in 15 minutes what your grandparents or great grandparents needed more than an hour to do in 1947. This is a substantial increase, and we can see it in the many improvements in living standards since World War II.

Productivity growth in recent years hasn’t been as strong, however. It may seem surprising, given all the new technologies and products in recent years, but we are now living through one of the lowest productivity-growth periods ever recorded. Since the Great Recession of 2007–09 began in the fourth quarter of 2007, labor productivity has grown just 1.0 percent per year. That is less than half the long-term average rate of 2.2 percent since 1947. Although the U.S. economy has been experiencing slow productivity growth since 2007, some industries have been doing well. For instance, the wireless telecommunication carrier industry has had annual labor productivity growth of over 15.0 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Labor productivity growth in the nonfarm business sector is lower in the current business cycle than during any of the previous ten business cycles. Chart 1 shows average annual labor productivity growth during business cycles since World War II.

Chart 1. Average annual percent change in labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector during business cycles

Multifactor productivity—which accounts for the use of machinery, equipment, and other capital, in addition to labor—has also increased more slowly over the current business cycle; it has grown 0.4 percent per year during the 2007–15 period, compared to its long-term rate of 0.9 percent per year since 1987.

Historically, productivity growth has led to gains in compensation for workers, greater profits for firms, and more tax revenue for governments. Compensation, which includes pay and benefits, has not always risen as fast as productivity, however. (See chart 2.) The difference between labor productivity gains and real hourly compensation growth is often called the “wage gap.” Real hourly compensation growth tracked labor productivity growth more closely before the 1970s. Since then, growth in real hourly compensation has lagged behind gains in productivity, widening the gap considerably. Since the start of the Great Recession in the fourth quarter of 2007, real hourly compensation has grown by only 0.6 percent per year; that’s less than half the long-term average of 1.6 percent per year.

Chart 2. Labor productivity and real hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector, 1947–2015

Measures of gross domestic product and employment tell us how the U.S. economy is doing in producing goods and services and creating jobs. Measures of productivity link what our economy produces and the labor and capital used to produce it. Labor productivity is an important statistic to track because gains in productivity are essential to improving our lives and the well-being of our nation. That’s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman meant when he noted, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long-run it’s almost everything.”

You can stay up to date on productivity trends and other economic news by signing up for our email alerts or following us on Twitter.

Worth a Thousand Words? Announcing Ready-to-Go Interactive Graphics with BLS News Releases

Last spring I wrote about how we’ve been using more and better charts and maps to help you understand our statistics. Today I’m excited to tell you about a new set of graphical tools to make our news releases more illuminating at the moment of their posting.

We want everyone to be able to “see” quickly what’s in the hundreds of news releases we publish every year—on price trends, pay and benefits, productivity, employment and unemployment, job openings and labor turnover, and other topics. The format of these news releases still typically includes a few pages of text to explain the latest information about a topic. Most releases also include tables with lots and lots of numbers. These news releases have served our customers well for decades, but we’re always looking for ways to improve our products and services. Many of you have told us that adding charts and maps to our news releases would make them more useful and easier to understand. In recent years we’ve added charts and maps to many news releases, but most releases only include a couple of these visualizations. We are committed to do more.

We’re adding a cool new feature to many of our releases. Starting last fall, we began posting sets of interactive graphics to complement some of our most widely read economic reports. We’ll update these graphics with each new release of data. Our monthly news release on import and export price indexes was the first to have a set of interactive graphics. The quarterly Employment Cost Index news release was the next to include interactive graphics. Most recently, when we published the Employment Situation—often our most watched news release—on January 8, we presented a lengthy new set of charts from our monthly surveys of households and nonfarm establishments. Over the coming months, we will add chart sets for more releases.

I’ve used the word “interactive” to describe these charts. Let me explain what that means. Interactive features let you choose what you want to see. For example, our chart showing nonfarm employment levels over the last 20 years starts out with two lines, one for total nonfarm employment and the other for total private employment. The legend above the chart lets you turn categories on or off, simply by clicking on the industry titles in the legend. If you want to look at, say, the last 10 years instead of the last 20, you can change the time period by clicking and dragging within the chart. If you hover your pointer over the lines in the chart, you can see the exact values for individual months.

industry-employment

In the coming months we will continue to develop interactive graphics for the rest of our most watched monthly and quarterly news releases. Our goal over the next few years is to have interactive graphics to accompany all or nearly all of our news releases. I am thrilled to have this great set of tools to serve our customers better.

Take a look. I know you’ll agree with me that the BLS staff have done a fine job crafting these ready-to-go visualizations. Whatever BLS statistics you follow, I hope you find many uses for them and send us a lot of comments and suggestions!