Topic Archives: Survey Respondents

Why This Counts: Maximizing Our Data Using the Consumer Expenditure Survey

Almost all BLS statistical programs are based on information respondents voluntarily give us. We want to squeeze as much information as we can out of the data respondents generously provide. Limiting respondent burden while producing gold-standard data is central to our mission.

Let’s take a look at how one program, the Consumer Expenditure (CE) Survey, squeezes every last drop of information from the data to provide you, our customers, with more relevant information.

What is the Consumer Expenditure Survey?

The CE survey is a nationwide household survey that shows how U.S. consumers spend their money. It collects information from America’s families on their buying habits (expenditures), income, and household characteristics (age, sex, race, education, and so forth). For example, we publish what percentage of consumers bought bacon or ice cream and how much they spent on average.

A little back story: The first nationwide expenditure survey began in 1888. BLS was founded in 1884, so the CE Survey is one of our first surveys! It wasn’t until 1980 that we began publishing CE data each year, however. A 2010 article, The Consumer Expenditure Survey—30 Years as a Continuous Survey, provides more historical information.

How is the CE program doing more with what we have?

We’ll briefly look at four different areas, starting with the most recent improvements:

  • Limited state data
  • Higher-income data
  • Generational data
  • Estimating taxes

Limited State Data – Starting with New Jersey

  • Regarding geographical information, the CE survey is designed to produce national statistics. Enough sample data are available to produce estimates for census regions and for a few metropolitan areas.
  • Up to now, however, we did not produce state data. The CE program recently published state weights for New Jersey, which will allow for valid survey estimates at the state level for the first time.
  • State-level weights are available for states with a sample size that is large enough and meet other sampling conditions.
  • Right now, the state-level weighting is experimental. We provide state-level weights to data users to gauge interest and usefulness.

 Higher-Income Table

  • We evaluated the income ranges of the published tables and found that over time more and more households were earning more, and the top income range had not increased to keep pace. To provide greater detail, we divided the existing top income range of “$150,000 and over” into two new ranges: “$150,000 to $199,999” and “$200,000 and over.” We integrated these changes into the 2014 annual “Income before taxes” research table, allowing more robust analysis for our data users.
  • In addition, we added four new experimental cross-tabulated tables on income without the need for additional information from our respondents.

Generational Table

Grouping respondent information by age cohort can be helpful, since a person’s age can help to predict differences in buying attitudes and behaviors. The CE program has collected age data for years, but never grouped the data into generational cohorts before. A Pew Research Center report defines five generations for people born between these dates:

  • Millennial Generation: 1981 or later
  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980
  • Baby Boomers: 1946 to 1964
  • Silent Generation: 1928 to 1945
  • Greatest Generation: 1927 or earlier

The 2016 annual generational table shows our most recent age information for the “reference person” or the person identified as owning or renting the home included in the CE Survey. In 2016 we wrote a short article on Spending Habits by Generation, including a video, which used 2015 data. We’ve updated the chart using 2016 data:

A chart showing consumer spending patterns by generation in 2016.

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

Estimating Taxes

CE respondents used to provide federal and state income tax information as part of the survey. These questions were difficult for respondents to answer.

Starting in 2013, the CE program estimated federal and state tax information using the TaxSim model from the National Bureau of Economic Research and removed the tax questions from the survey. As a result, the quality and consistency of the data increased, and we have reduced respondent burden!

If you have any questions or want more information, our staff of experts is always around to help! Please feel free to contact us.

This is just one example of how we at BLS are always looking for ways to maximize our value while being ever mindful of the costs—and one of those important costs is the burden our data collection efforts place on our respondents. Maximizing our data means providing gold-standard data to the public while reducing the burden on our respondents—a true win-win!

Annual consumer spending by generation of reference person, 2016
Item Millennials, 1981 to now Generation X, 1965 to 1980 Baby Boomers, 1946 to 1964 Silent Generation, 1928 to 1945 Greatest Generation, 1927 or earlier
Food at home $3,370 $4,830 $4,224 $3,450 $2,023
Food away from home 2,946 4,040 3,100 2,042 1,095
Housing 16,959 22,669 18,917 14,417 17,858
Apparel and services 1,753 2,577 1,602 920 615
Transportation 8,426 10,545 9,762 5,952 3,142
Healthcare 2,473 4,492 5,492 6,197 5,263
Entertainment 2,311 3,613 3,144 2,114 1,223
All other spending 10,338 15,766 14,963 6,671 4,125

Data Privacy Day is Every Day at BLS

There are many commemorative days, weeks, and months, but Data Privacy Day on January 28 is one that we here at BLS live every day of the year.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about it, Data Privacy Day is an international effort to “create awareness about the importance of:

  • respecting privacy,
  • safeguarding data and
  • enabling trust.”

These three phrases are central to everything we do at BLS—but don’t take my word for it! Instead, let’s hear from some of our staff members about what data privacy means in their day-to-day work lives.

I chatted with staff members from three key areas at the Bureau:

  • Collection — our field economists collect data from respondents.
  • Systems — our computer specialists protect the IT infrastructure where we keep the data.
  • Analysis — our economists analyze the data, prepare products, and explain the data to our customers.

Now, let’s meet the staff.

Richard Regotti

Richard Regotti

My name is Richard Regotti, Field Economist in the BLS Chicago Regional Office, Cleveland Area Office. I have proudly served the public in this position for 12 years. As a Field Economist I am responsible for collecting data and developing positive relationships and securing cooperation from survey respondents for the Producer Price Index and the International Price Indexes.







Jess Mitchell

Jess Mitchell

My name is Jess Mitchell and I have been an Information Security Specialist in the Bureau’s national office since 2013. I started with BLS in 1999. Currently, I am the Computer Security Incident Response Team Lead, so I, along with my team members, investigate, analyze and report on computer security incidents as well as the impact or potential impact of cyber threats and vulnerabilities to BLS systems and data.






Karen Kosanovich

Karen Kosanovich

My name is Karen Kosanovich, Economist, and I have spent the past 19 years working with unemployment data from the Current Population Survey, and 25 years total at BLS. I develop analyses, such as The Employment Situation, and talk to our customers about the data.







Question 1. One of our core BLS values is the confidentiality of data: All respondent data are completely confidential and used for statistical purposes only. How does this impact you in your daily work?

Richard: On a daily basis I am asking producers and service providers to voluntarily provide very sensitive company information. Even after identifying myself as a representative of our Federal Government, some respondents are not comfortable with agreeing to provide us their confidential information for use in our statistical output. By focusing on the mission of the BLS and the legal protections that are in place to safeguard survey data, I am able to function on the front line as a data collector.

Jess: This core value of data confidentiality helps me to focus on the importance of protecting the confidentiality of BLS data when my team members and I are investigating threats. The importance of BLS data underscores the importance of our daily work to keep BLS data and data respondent information confidential.

Karen: I don’t have access to information about specific people who respond to our survey. All personally identifying information is stripped away before the statistical information is given to an economist like me to analyze. For my colleagues and me, confidentiality means protecting our estimates from being distributed in advance of the official release of the unemployment rate at 8:30 a.m. on the day we publish our data.

Question 2. Does adherence to this core value create any challenges for you in your work? How have you overcome those challenges?

Richard: Adherence to complete confidentiality, supported by the fact that the data are used for statistical purposes only, presents no challenge to me; this core value is a selling point and something I make sure all potential survey participants are aware of prior to providing any data to the BLS.

Jess: Adherence to the core BLS value of data confidentiality does create a challenge when we need to engage our office in an incident or threat investigation; we must be very diligent not to share Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) information.

Karen: Our procedures for working with embargoed (prerelease) information are so ingrained in my work routine that I don’t notice any challenges from them. The people I work with all have the same responsibility and a strong commitment to public service, so it is easy for us to keep vigilant.

Question 3. If you could make a statement to the American people about why they should trust BLS with their information, what would that be?

Richard: BLS is not a compliance or regulatory agency in any way. We are only concerned with providing accurate, timely, relevant, and unbiased data that reports on the health and well-being of our economy. Your information contributes to the validity of BLS data.

Jess: The confidentiality of BLS data is always at the root of my office’s work, and I see the same focus on data privacy and confidentiality and diligence toward the safeguarding of CIPSEA data throughout the entire culture of BLS.

Karen: Although I don’t have names and personal details of specific unemployed people who respond to our survey, my colleagues and I are very mindful of the importance of representing the experience of all Americans when we produce our estimates. The data we publish are not just numbers, but tell the story of real people. It can be very stressful to be unemployed, and those who have been looking for work for a very long time face significant challenges in the labor market. We take our jobs, and our mission, very seriously.

And now the rules:

Of course, we don’t work in a vacuum. Like any other organization, we have rules that we live under.

BLS makes a pledge of confidentiality to its respondents that data collected are used for statistical purposes only. The pledge is covered by CIPSEA, which makes it a felony to disclose or release the information for either nonstatistical purposes (for example, regulatory or law-enforcement purposes) or to unauthorized persons. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget has Statistical Policy Directives (3 and 4) that govern BLS news releases to ensure they meet specific accuracy, timeliness, and accountability standards.

On January 28, and every day, we hope you will take steps to protect your own privacy and the privacy of others. Here at BLS we will continue to educate and raise awareness about respecting privacy and safeguarding data. It is core to our mission and central to our staff values. Without the trust these actions produce among the American people, we could not do our work in providing gold-standard data for and about America’s workers.

Thank you for your trust and happy Data Privacy Day!

People with a Disability in the Labor Market

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. BLS has been collecting data on the employment status of people with a disability for nearly a decade. Let’s talk about how we gather the data and then look at some long-term trends.

Why does BLS gather information about people with a disability?

BLS added six questions to the Current Population Survey in June 2008 to begin gathering timely information on the employment and unemployment status of people with a disability. Policymakers and others use these data to see how this population fares in the job market.

How does BLS collect these data?

The survey asks about physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. It is difficult to accurately identify all people with a disability using only a few questions. Research conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and others resulted in six questions that identify this population.

The questions used to find out whether anyone in a household has a disability are:

  1. Is anyone deaf or does anyone have serious difficulty hearing?
  2. Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?
  3. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
  4. Does anyone have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
  5. Does anyone have difficulty dressing or bathing?
  6. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?

People who respond “yes” to any of these questions are classified as having a disability.

How likely are people with a disability to be employed?

  • The employment-population ratio is the percentage of the population who are working.
  • People with no disabilities are more than 3 times as likely to be employed as those with a disability (65.3 percent in 2016, compared with 17.9 percent). This disparity has held throughout the time these data have been available.
  • People with a disability tend to be older, and older people are less likely to be employed. However, people with a disability are less likely to be employed regardless of their age.
  • About 1 in 30 employed people in the U.S. have a disability.

What is the unemployment rate for people with a disability?

  • Someone is unemployed if they do not have a job but are available to work and looked for a job in the previous 4 weeks.
  • The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people divided by the labor force, which is the sum of employed and unemployed people.
  • The unemployment rate for people with a disability has been about twice that of people with no disabilities in recent years. In 2016, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 10.5 percent, and the rate for those without a disability was 4.6 percent.

 Chart showing the unemployment rates of people with and without a disability from 2009 to 2016.

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

What about people who are neither working nor looking for work?

  • People who are neither working nor looking for work are not in the labor force.
  • In 2016, a larger proportion of people with a disability—8 in 10—were not in the labor force than those with no disability, at about 3 in 10.
  • Many people with a disability are age 65 and older. In general, older people are less likely to participate in the labor force than younger people.
  • Most people with and without a disability who are not in the labor force do not want a job, perhaps because they are retired, have family responsibilities, or are in school.

We honor the contributions and innovations that people with a disability make to our workforce and to our nation. We look forward to providing information about people with a disability for years to come.

Want to learn more? Check out our webpage with more data about people with a disability. We also have answers to frequently asked questions.

Unemployment rates for people with and without a disability
Characteristic 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
With a disability 14.5% 14.8% 15.0% 13.4% 13.2% 12.5% 10.7% 10.5%
Without a disability 9.0 9.4 8.7 7.9 7.1 5.9 5.1 4.6

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.

BLS Staff Member Receives Prestigious Honor

Daniell Toth

ASA Fellow Daniell Toth

One of the things I love about leading BLS is working with so many dedicated and talented professionals, who care deeply about the quality of the statistics we publish. One of our colleagues recently was recognized for his good work. All of us at BLS congratulate Daniell Toth, a research mathematical statistician in the Office of Survey Methods Research, who was selected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.

Only one-third of one percent of the ASA’s membership receives this prestigious distinction. Daniell has been honored for outstanding contributions to survey methods. Among these contributions are better methods for designing survey samples and assessing and reducing the bias that can result from survey nonresponse. The honor also recognizes Daniell’s research on methods to protect the confidentiality of survey respondents. In addition to Daniell’s important research, the ASA recognized his long service to support junior statisticians and researchers, the broader statistical community, and the ASA itself. Congratulations, Daniell!