Tag Archives: CPI

Celebrating 75 Years of BLS Regional Offices

World War II had a significant impact on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1942, the Office of Price Administration asked BLS to help them understand what was going on with prices and price controls. Price controls? Remember, this was during World War II and there was significant government intervention in markets. Shortly after that, the National War Labor Board asked BLS to conduct surveys and evaluate wage rate increases. These two projects showed the need for local information, not just national averages. Why am I writing about events from World War II? Well, the growing need for local data led BLS to create our regional offices, and we recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. I want to tell you a little about these offices and their rich history.

Today, BLS staff throughout the country collect price and wage data and more. As you can imagine, the uses of these data and the methods for collecting them have changed significantly. Our regional offices collect survey data, work closely with our state partners, and help people find and understand the information they need.

Survey data collection has changed significantly from the 1940s. Today our regional staff throughout the country work with survey respondents to make it as easy as possible to provide accurate information. Modern technology makes it easier to respond to our surveys, but even more important is the close relationships our regional staff have with survey respondents. That high-touch, high-tech approach has proven successful and helped us achieve high response rates.

BLS has a long history of working with states. We wrote about this unique and important partnership back in 2016. Our regional staff work closely with their state colleagues to provide data that are timely, accurate, and relevant to the local economy. We are proud of our partnership with the states.

Finally, each regional office has a small staff of economists dedicated to providing information to the public. These Economic Analysis and Information staff write news releases and other reports that focus on local data. The staff support our data collection efforts through outreach to local business communities and associations. The staff also provide information to people and businesses who use data to make important decisions.

What started as a way to provide analysis on government price controls and wage increases has evolved and blossomed into an integral part of BLS. The pioneering staff from our past and the dedicated staff of today allow us to produce gold standard economic statistics.

Congratulations to the BLS regional offices staff on 75 years of excellent service to the nation!

What Does the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Tell Us about Football?

Football season is here. From pee-wee and youth sports, to high school and college rivalries, to professional matchups, it seems like there’s a game available almost every day of the week. You may wonder how football is related to economic statistics. Well, at BLS, we have a stat for that!

A recent Spotlight on Statistics by Bonnie Nichols, a research analyst at the National Endowment for the Arts, examines information from the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey on what households spent on entertainment, including sporting events.

  • In 2015, American consumers spent an average of $652 for admission to entertainment events, including movies, performing arts, and sporting events. The average spent on sporting events was about $43.
  • Americans ages 35–44 spent an average of $957 per year and those ages 45–54 spent an average of $879 per year.

The Spotlight also provides information from the National Endowment for the Arts on the percentage of adults who attend sporting events—about 30 percent in 2012. Attendance varied by education level. Nearly twice the share of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher (43.4 percent) attended a sporting event as did people with a high school diploma or less education (22.5 percent).

Another source of information about America’s football behavior is the American Time Use Survey, which measures how Americans spend their day. In 2016, about 22 percent of Americans spent some time during the day in sports, exercise, and recreation activities. That could include playing a game of touch football on the back lawn at Thanksgiving or attending a game to cheer on your favorite team.

Percent of the population age 15 and older engaged in sports, exercise, and recreation on an average day, 2016 annual averages

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

More tidbits. The Consumer Price Index for October 2017 showed prices for admission to sporting events fell 1.7 percent over the year. Maybe it’s a good time to think about attending a game. On the other hand, the CPI also showed the price of beer bought away from home, such as at a stadium, rose 2.0 percent over the year.

I have to go get ready for the Thanksgiving Day games. Hope to see you on the gridiron.

Percent of the population age 15 and older engaged in sports, exercise, and recreation on an average day, 2016 annual averages
Age Percent

Total

21.7

15 to 24 years

28.9

25 to 34 years

21.6

35 to 44 years

20.2

45 to 54 years

19.1

55 to 64 years

22.0

65 years and older

18.8

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.

Increasing Commuting Costs?

With Earth Day approaching, we have been wondering about increased costs for commuting to work. At BLS, we don’t have environmental cost statistics, but we do have worker costs.

Some employees don’t have to commute — they are able to work from home.

  • In 2015, the share of employed persons who did some or all of their work from home on days they worked was 24 percent. This is up from 19 percent in 2003.

An image showing someone working at home.

 

But a large number of the workforce still travels to and from a physical workplace, day in and day out. If you do need to trek into work, over the last 10 years, changes in consumer prices for a couple modes of commuting follow.

If you go by car:

First you need a vehicle.

  • New cars: Up 6 percent

Next you need to fuel it.

  • Gasoline: Down 7 percent

But before you can put it on the road…

  • State motor vehicle registration and license fees: Up 27 percent
  • Motor vehicle insurance: Up 56 percent

And you may have to pay for parking once you get to work.

  • Parking and other fees: Up 38 percent

An image showing cars in rush hour traffic in an urban area.

Those in an urban area may have another option to driving:

  • Intracity transportation (bus, rail): Up 35 percent

And one last option:

  • Human-powered commuting (walking to work): No increase!

We hope these data help you make wise decisions on your commuting choices. If nothing else, you may decide to set up a car pool — to help pay for parking!

Ice Cream versus Bacon

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Steve Henderson. When not relaxing with a bowl of ice cream, Steve is a supervisory economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He’s spent half of his government career working on the Consumer Price Index and half on the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

How much did you spend on ice cream last year? According to the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average U.S. household spent around $54. But why does BLS need to know that?

Let’s take a deep dive into that ice cream. That’s just one of thousands of data we collect to calculate the Consumer Price Index, a monthly assessment of price changes for goods and services in the United States. The CPI has separate inflation indexes for just about everything people purchase. For example, the CPI has an index for “Bacon and related products,” and lots of other itemized food categories, including “Ice cream and related products.”

(Curious about what else we measure? Here’s the CPI’s online table generator tool. You can drill down to the most detailed CPI categories in step 2. Note: You’ll need to enable Java to see the chart.)

Why so many indexes? The CPI needs to carefully track how the prices of food, and just about everything else, change because not every item’s price goes up or down at the same rate. For example, bacon has increased in price almost 32 percent over the past 10 years, while ice cream went up 21 percent over the same time period.

A graphic showing trends in ice cream prices and bacon prices from 2007 to 2017.

Looking at how prices have moved over the last year, bacon is slightly less expensive than it was in January 2016, while the price of ice cream has gone up slightly. This information is helpful for families looking to see where their food budget money went, as well as researchers investigating changing food prices and other indicators of inflation.

Most importantly, the CPI needs to know how much the average U.S. household spends on both of those two food items in order to measure the impact different inflation rates have on total inflation. If everybody spent the same number of dollars on ice cream as they do on bacon, then you could just use a simple average of the two inflation rates to get a total. Here is where BLS’s Consumer Expenditure Survey comes in. It measures, in great detail, all the different goods and services consumers purchase in a year, and passes these numbers to the CPI to form a “market basket” — that is, a list of everything people buy and what percentage of their total spending goes to each item.

The latest spending numbers showed that the average dollar amount per year that all U.S. households spent on ice cream was $54.04, while the average amount on bacon was $39.07. That means that ice cream has a greater importance than bacon when tracking inflation, not only in the Henderson household, but in the CPI. In other words, the more people spend on an item, the more inflationary changes to its cost will affect the total inflation rate.

Policymakers, researchers, journalists, government bodies, and others use the CPI to make important decisions that directly affect American citizens. U.S. Census Bureau analysts use CPI data to adjust the official poverty thresholds for inflation, and it’s one of several factors the Federal Reserve Board considers when deciding whether to raise or lower interest rates. Employers may use it to determine whether to give cost-of-living increases, and policymakers use the CPI when considering changes to allotments for things like Social Security, military benefits, or school lunch programs.

I hope this deep dive into ice cream spending helps you understand why the Consumer Expenditure Survey is so detailed.