Tag Archives: COVID-19

When Worlds Converge: Statistics Agencies Learning from Each Other during the Pandemic

We never know when our worlds are going to converge. I have used this blog to tell you about how BLS operations are continuing—and changing—due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also plan to tell you about our international activities and will continue writing about the BLS Consumer Price Index (CPI) and other programs. Today, all three of these topics converge into one.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled BLS and statistical agencies worldwide to examine our processes and concepts to ensure the information we collect and publish reflects current conditions. For BLS, this means suspending all in-person data collection and relying on other methods, including telephone, internet, and email. Adding to our toolbox, BLS is now piloting video data collection. To be flexible, we have changed some collection procedures to accommodate current conditions. For example, we are now doing all of our work at home instead of in our offices. We are learning more every day about teleworking more effectively, and we are training our staff as we learn.

Once we collect the data, we are examining how we need to adapt our processing and publication. Will our typical procedures to account for missing data still apply? Will seasonal patterns in the data change due to COVID-19? Will we be able to publish the level of detail our data users have come to expect? These and more are open questions. We will make informed decisions as we learn more about the pandemic’s impact on our data and operations. What I do know is that BLS has a long practice of sharing its procedures and methods, including any changes. We already have extensive information about COVID-19 on the BLS website, and we continue to update that information. We also provide program-specific information with each data release to alert users to any unique circumstances in the data.

Since BLS has long been known for producing gold-standard data, information about our procedures and methods is also of great interest to our international colleagues. In fact, BLS has helped statistical organizations throughout the world with the collection, processing, analysis, publishing, and use of economic and labor statistics for more than 70 years. We provide this assistance primarily by our Division of International Technical Cooperation. They strengthen statistical development by organizing seminars, consultations, and meetings for international visitors with BLS staff. This division also serves as the main point of contact for the many international statistical organizations that compile information, publish comparable statistics worldwide, share concepts and definitions, and work to incorporate improvements and innovations.

A hallmark of our international activities has been onsite seminars at BLS, often attended by a multinational group of statistical experts and those working to become experts. At these seminars, BLS technical staff present details on every aspect of statistical programs, including concept development, sampling, data collection, estimation procedures, publishing, and more. In recent years, funding, travel restrictions, and other limitations have reduced the number of in-person events, replaced to some extent by virtual events. And of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions mean all such events are now being held virtually. But they still go on.

Recently, our international operations converged with our COVID-19 response when the International Technical Cooperation staff set up a virtual meeting between BLS staff primarily from our Consumer Price Index program and their counterparts at India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI). They met to discuss challenges in producing consumer price data during the ongoing pandemic. The discussion was largely about methodology: what to do with missing prices and how to adjust weights to reflect real-time shifts in spending that consumers are making in response to the pandemic. It is helpful to hear from worldwide colleagues who are facing similar challenges. These issues are unprecedented, and we know the potential solutions for one country may not be ideal for the nuanced conditions in another country.

In India, for instance, commerce has been limited to essential commodities—food, fuel, and medicine. This will likely leave them unable to publish some indexes. While this is unfortunate in the present time, it is fairly straightforward; they can’t publish what they don’t have. It gets more complicated a year from now. What does it mean to have an annual price change when the denominator is missing? The CPI deals with this by having a fairly robust imputation system—basically “borrowing” price change from similar areas and items—but we will be monitoring the situation closely to make sure our assumptions about what is similar remain valid.

One advantage BLS has over MOSPI is that we are able to collect data by telephone, email, or on the web. MOSPI has traditionally only done in-person collection. Both agencies are transitioning to different modes of collection, but we have significantly greater experience.

Sharing information with our international colleagues, about the CPI and other programs, and about our COVID-19 experience, is a key part of the BLS mission. These worlds continue to converge, not just during organized meetings but also on websites and wikis maintained by statistical organizations and through participation in expert groups and conferences. For example, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe hosts a ”statswiki” that currently has pages dedicated to COVID-19 and Official Statistics. It is a small world after all, and the worldwide social distancing we are all experiencing makes it clear that we are all in this together. And together, BLS and our international colleagues, reacting to COVID-19 and making adjustments to consumer price indexes and other statistics, will continue to provide vital information that tracks changes in the world economy.

Paid Leave Benefits When You Are Unable to Work

Many American workers have lost jobs or had their work hours reduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts. Many other workers still have jobs, but their work environment probably has changed since March. It’s reasonable to assume more people are working from home now than the 29 percent we reported who could work at home in 2017–18. At BLS we are still working to provide you with the latest economic data and analysis, but nearly all of us are now working from home, instead of in our offices.

Still, there are many jobs that just can’t be done from home. In these challenging times, I know we all are grateful for the healthcare workers who are treating patients who have COVID-19 and other medical conditions. We’re grateful for our emergency responders and for the truck drivers, warehouse workers, delivery workers, and staff in grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retail establishments that provide us with the necessities of daily life. As much as I think of these men and women as superheroes, I know they are humans. Even extraordinary humans can get sick, or they may need to take care of family members who get sick. Let’s look at the leave benefits available to them if they need it.

According to our National Compensation Survey, 73 percent of private industry workers were covered by paid sick leave in 2019. Among state and local government workers, 91 percent were covered by paid sick leave. The availability of sick leave benefits varied by occupation, ranging from 94 percent of managers in private industry to 56 percent of workers in construction and extraction occupations.

The share with paid sick leave also varies by industry, pay level, size of establishment, and other characteristics of jobs and employers. The following chart shows sick leave availability for employers of different sizes.

Percent of workers in private industry with access to paid sick leave by establishment size, March 2019

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

Paid sick leave plans commonly provide a fixed number of days per year. The number of days may vary by the worker’s length of service with the employer. The average in private industry in 2019 was 7 paid sick leave days.

Average number of paid sick leave days per year for workers in private industry, by length of service and establishment size, March 2019

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

About half of workers with such a plan could carry over unused days from year to year.

We recently posted a new fact sheet on paid sick leave that provides even more detail.

In the past few years, some states and cities have mandated that certain employers provide their workers with paid sick leave. We include these mandated plans in our data on paid leave. A Federal law passed in March 2020 requires paid sick leave for certain workers affected by COVID-19.

In addition to paid sick leave, some employers offer a short-term disability insurance plan when employees can’t work because of illness. These plans are sometimes called sickness and accident insurance plans. This was traditionally a blue-collar or union benefit, and it often replaces only a portion of an employee’s pay. In 2019, 42 percent of private industry workers had access to such a benefit. Like sick leave, the availability of short-term disability benefits varies widely across worker groups. Some states provide Temporary Disability Insurance plans that provide similar benefits.

While the National Compensation Survey asks employers what benefits they offer to workers, the American Time Use Survey recently asked workers whether paid leave is available from their employer and whether they used it. In 2017–18, two-thirds of workers had access to paid leave at their jobs. These data include information on age, sex, and other characteristics. For example, younger workers (ages 15–24) and older workers (age 65 and older) were less likely to have access to paid leave than were other workers.

Percent of workers with access to paid leave by age, 2017–18 averages

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

While the survey did not ask workers to classify the type of leave, they were asked the reasons they could take leave. Of those with paid leave available, 94 percent could use it for their own illness or medical care, and 78 percent could use it for the illness or medical care of another family member.

I hope you and your loved ones remain healthy and are able to take care of each other in these challenging times. High-quality data will be vital in the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. High-quality data also will be vital for measuring the economic impact of the pandemic and recovery from it. My colleagues at BLS and our fellow U.S. statistical agencies remain on the job to provide you with gold standard data.

Percent of workers in private industry with access to paid sick leave by establishment size, March 2019
Establishment sizePercent

1–49 workers

64%

50–99 workers

68

100–499 workers

80

500 workers or more

89
Average number of paid sick leave days per year for workers in private industry, by length of service and establishment size, March 2019
Length of serviceAll establishments 1 to 49 workers50 to 99 workers100 to 499 workers500 workers or more

After 1 year

76678

After 5 years

77679

After 10 years

77779

After 20 years

77779
Percent of workers with access to paid leave by age, 2017–18 averages
AgePercent

Ages 15–24

35.4%

Ages 25–34

70.3

Ages 35–44

71.7

Ages 45–54

74.4

Ages 55–64

74.2

Age 65 and older

51.7