Topic Archives: Survey Respondents

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!

Innovating for the Future

Erica L. Groshen was the 14th Commissioner of Labor Statistics. She served from January 2013 to January 2017. This is her final post for Commissioner’s Corner.

Image of former BLS Commissioner Erica L. Groshen

It didn’t take long after I became Commissioner of Labor Statistics in January 2013 for me to appreciate the skill, dedication, and innovation of the staff that works here. Whether they’re doing sampling, data collection, estimation, or dissemination; whether they’re the IT professionals or the statisticians or the HR staff; whether they’re the newest employees who are so tech-savvy or the more senior employees who hold a wealth of institutional knowledge. To a person they are phenomenal. I am honored to have had the pleasure of leading them — and letting them lead me — during the past 4 years.

 

I have had many opportunities to observe and encourage innovation during my tenure at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from listening tours to senior staff conferences to regional office visits to discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders. From these efforts, we have identified several activities that will help us develop and implement the next generation of labor statistics. These days, we call these efforts a variety of names, such as “modernization” and “reengineering.” But, in truth, they just continue the impressive progress that has been the hallmark of BLS for the past 133 years.

In my final Commissioner’s Corner post, I want to tell you a little about some of our current reengineering efforts.

One of the things we do best at BLS is data collection, largely because we are always looking for ways to improve. Recent efforts include identifying alternative data sources, expanding electronic collection, and “scraping” information directly from the Internet. These efforts can expand the information we provide, lessen the burden we place on employers and households that provide data, and maybe even save some money to provide taxpayers the best value for their data dollar.

These efforts are not new. One source of alternative data we’ve used for many years comes from state unemployment insurance filings, which identify nearly every employer in the country. We tabulate these data but also use them as the source of our sample of employers for certain surveys and as a benchmark of detailed employment by industry. We also use information from private sources and from administrative sources, like vital statistics. Our latest efforts involve examining techniques to combine data across multiple sources, including mixing survey and nonsurvey data.

We want to give employers the opportunity to leverage the electronic data they already keep so it’s easier to respond to our surveys. These efforts include allowing employers to provide electronic information in multiple formats; identifying a single source of electronic data from employers, reducing the number of locations and number of requests made to multiple sites of the same organization; and working with employers to allow BLS to access their data directly from the Internet. We rely on good corporate citizens to supply the information that we use to produce important economic data. Making data collection easier is a win-win.

The innovation doesn’t stop at collection. We are using electronic text analysis systems extensively to streamline some of our data-processing activities. Much of the information we collect is in the form of text, such as a description of an industry or occupation, details about a workplace injury, or summaries of employee benefit plans. Transforming text into a classification system for tabulation and publication used to be a manual task. BLS has begun to transform this task through the use of machine-learning techniques, where computers learn by reviewing greater and greater amounts of information, resulting in accurate classification. As we expand our skills in this area and find more uses for these techniques, the benefits include accurate and consistent data and greater opportunities for our staff to use their brainpower to focus on new, unique, and unusual situations.

We are also modernizing our outputs, producing more with the information we have. For example, we have begun several matching projects, combining data from two or more sources to produce new information. One example is new information on nonprofit organizations. By linking our employment data with nonprofit status obtained from the Internal Revenue Service, we now have employment data separately for the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. And we took that effort one step further and produced compensation information for these sectors as well. Look for more output from these matching efforts in the future.

Finally, we’ve made great strides in how we present our information, including expanded graphics and video. And we are not stopping there. Each year we are expanding the number of data releases that include a companion graphics package. We are developing prototypes of a new generation of data releases, with more graphics and links to data series. And we have more videos to come.

My 4 years as Commissioner of Labor Statistics have flown by. I’m excited to see so many innovations begin, thrive, and foster additional innovations. I have no doubt that the culture of innovation at BLS will continue. As my term comes to an end, I know now more than ever that the skill, dedication, and creativity of the BLS staff will lead this agency to even greater advances in the years to come.

BLS Microdata Now More Easily Accessible to Researchers across the Country

I am pleased to announce that BLS is now part of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center Network.

Researchers at universities, nonprofits, and government agencies can now go to 24 secure research data centers across the United States to analyze microdata from our National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and our Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Before, researchers had to visit our headquarters in Washington, D.C., to use these data.Image of researchers examining data.

Making our underlying data more accessible for researchers from coast to coast is a huge step forward, and I hope it will lead to a surge in research using BLS data. I believe that having more researchers use BLS data not only will showcase new uses of the data but improve our products by encouraging researchers from BLS and other organizations to collaborate. It also supports transparency because external researchers can analyze inputs to our published statistics.

Another key benefit to having BLS data alongside datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics is that researchers can combine data from two or more agencies. Using multiple datasets allows researchers to match data to answer new questions with no more burden on our respondents. Put simply, more data = better research = better decisions that rely on research.

Researchers are enthusiastic about adding BLS data to the research data center network.

“We at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta are excited that more BLS microdata are available to researchers. Policy questions are usually complicated. Matched data from different sources can give researchers a much better understanding of economic relationships. That will help us provide more informed policy advice,” said John Robertson, senior policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Over the next year, we will add more BLS data to the research data centers based on user demand.

Researchers can also still visit us at our D.C. headquarters to access our full suite of microdata. To learn more and to apply, see our BLS Restricted Data Access page.

Partnering with the States to Provide Labor Market Information

I am fortunate to have so many opportunities to speak about the Bureau of Labor Statistics and how the information we release—almost daily—helps Americans make smart decisions. Recently, I’ve spoken to academics, students, researchers, business leaders, labor officials, policymakers, and more. No matter the group, I’m often asked what data we have for a specific state or local area. While people care about national trends—the current (February 2016) national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent is the lowest rate since November 2007—they also want to know what’s happening closer to home. People in Iowa want to know their unemployment rate, 3.5 percent in January 2016, just as people in Mississippi want to know their unemployment rate, 6.7 percent.

I hope all users of BLS data appreciate that BLS is able to produce much of our national, state, and local data because of our partnerships with the states.

BLS and our state partners work together to publish comparable data in two broad subject areas: the labor market (employment, hours, and earnings) and occupational safety and health (workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities). I emphasized “comparable” in the previous sentence because we must be sure we measure conditions well and in the same way across localities. Otherwise, it’s hard to know how your area stacks up—in either level or trend.

Today I will focus on our Labor Market Information (LMI) programs, the first of which started over a century ago to collect employment, hours, and earnings for states and metro areas in 1915.

Four BLS programs make up the LMI family:

  • The Current Employment Statistics program provides the very timely monthly report on payroll jobs for the nation by detailed industry. It also provides employment data for states and metropolitan areas. Did you know California gained 442,400 jobs from January 2015 to January 2016? That was more jobs than any other state, but seven states had larger percentage gains. Idaho had the largest percentage increase, 3.7 percent, compared with 2.8 percent in California.
  • The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages is a complete count of all employers who file Unemployment Insurance reports with their states. This program provides our most detailed geographic breakdowns, with information down to the county level. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where I used to live, had 713,000 wage and salary workers in the third quarter of 2015, and their average weekly wage was $985.
  • The Occupational Employment Statistics program provides employment and wage information for detailed occupations. The program provides data for the nation, states, metropolitan areas, and other geographic groupings. From this program, we learn that accountants and auditors in Boise earned an average of $31.21 per hour in 2014; the national average for accountants and auditors was $35.42 per hour.
  • The Local Area Unemployment Statistics program provides unemployment data for states and local areas. Interestingly, both North and South Dakota had 2.8 percent unemployment rates in January 2016, the lowest in the nation.

state-unemployment-rates-in-january-2016

BLS and the states work together to decide what information we and our customers in the public and private sector need to learn about the labor market. Together we decide the best methods for collecting accurate, relevant information at a cost that provides the best value for taxpayers. BLS and the states collaborate on collecting the data, ensuring its accuracy, and publishing it quickly enough for public policymakers, businesses, and families to make good decisions.

Our partnerships with the states foster a culture of continuous improvement, as we test new ideas and methods to deepen our knowledge of the labor market. We strengthened this partnership through the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and more recently the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014. Working together, we strive to produce and improve labor market information that serves the needs of local communities across the country.

 

Why This Counts: Celebrating 100 years of Current Employment Statistics

You’re only as old as you feel, or so the saying goes. Here at BLS, we agree that age is only a state of mind. I’m proud to say the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey—which some call the “payroll survey” or the “establishment survey”—is still going strong as it turns 100 years old this month. To celebrate, BLS is hosting a free public event with exciting guest speakers and topical booths staffed with economists ready to answer your questions. We will hold the 100 Years of CES Symposium on October 19, 2015, in Washington, DC. You need to register to attend. We hope to see you there.

Throughout its 100 years, many things about the CES have remained the same, while others bear no likeness to the survey’s origins. Instead of the monthly news releases and web updates we post rapidly today, the start of the modern CES program was one table called the “Number of employees and amount of earnings in identical establishments in certain industries during one week of October and November, 1915,” published in the January 1916 Monthly Labor Review. Interestingly enough, when the survey began, many analysts viewed the amount of earnings as more useful than a count of employees because they believed earnings were more closely tied to changes in production. Employers were more likely to reduce hours worked and therefore pay than lay people off. Today, the headline number on the monthly jobs report is the number of jobs added or lost each month.

One crucial feature that remains unchanged is the survey’s reliance on voluntary reports from US employers. So, I thank CES survey respondents for your cooperation then and now, because the survey could not succeed without you. The U.S. labor market is fueled by business of all sizes and industries. The experience of each employer tells an important story, so I encourage you to say “yes” when we call to ask for your participation.

The states have always played an especially important role in making, publishing, and explaining CES estimates. I thank our state partners for their continued support of the CES program.

I encourage all our readers to check the Monthly Labor Review regularly in the coming months because we will publish several articles that highlight the survey throughout the decades. As always, your source of the most up-to-date information about national and state and metro area employment, hours, and earnings estimates is www.bls.gov.

Have a question about the survey? Staff economists are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern time. For questions about national estimates, call (202) 691-6555 or send us an email. State and metro area economists are available at (202) 691-6559, and you also can email them.