Tag Archives: CPI

Improving How We Measure Prices for New Vehicles

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Brendan Williams is an economist in the Office of Prices and Living Conditions at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For nearly as long as cars and trucks have been sold, the BLS Consumer Price Index (CPI) has tracked changes in the prices consumers pay for new vehicles. Our traditional method of determining the change in vehicle prices is to survey dealers and collect estimated prices for models with a specific set of features. For example, a Brand X 8-cylinder two-door sports coupe with a sunroof. We recently debuted a research index for new vehicles based on a large dataset of prices actually paid, which we call “transaction” prices. This is just one of many efforts currently underway in the CPI (and throughout BLS) to identify and introduce new sources of data into our statistical measures. As you are about to learn, a lot goes into introducing these new measures.

We purchased the new data for new vehicles from J.D. Power. The new dataset includes records of the prices paid during hundreds of thousands of transactions every month—far more than the roughly 2,000 vehicle prices in the CPI sample. The larger dataset provides more precise measures of price change.

But it’s not as simple as plugging the new data into the monthly CPI. We found that applying current CPI methods to the transaction data produced a biased index. So we had to make some changes. We combined an estimate of the long-run trend in new vehicle prices with a measure of high-frequency fluctuations in the market. The long-run trend is based on the year-over-year price change between a vehicle in the current month and the same vehicle in the prior model year 12 months ago; we get these values from the J.D. Power data. The high-frequency fluctuation is extracted from a monthly index based on current methods used in the CPI.

The research index includes all types of new vehicles—cars, SUVs, and trucks. And since the data reflect actual transactions, the shift in consumer preference from cars to other types of vehicles is reflected in the data. This differs from the currently published CPI, which has maintained a roughly equal weight between cars and trucks.

The new vehicles research index performs very similarly to the published index. From December 2007 to March 2020, the research index (untaxed) increased 8.2 percent, while the official new vehicles index (which is taxed) increased 7.7 percent. Looking under the hood, the research truck index is also similar to its published index. The difference in the car indexes is larger, with the official index showing a 5.2-percent increase, while the research index shows only a 1.5-percent increase.

Chart showing trends in research and official price indexes for new vehicles, 2007 to 2020

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

While the new vehicle indexes look similar, the research index has a much lower standard error, which means there is less variation in the data. The research index had a 12-month standard error of 0.11, compared to the 0.43 standard error in the new vehicles index.

This research index is just one of many ways BLS is innovating the CPI and all our measures. For more information on BLS efforts to use new sources of data in the CPI, see “Big Data in the U.S. Consumer Price Index: Experiences & Plans.” Details of the methods and other aspects of research are in, “A New Vehicles Transaction Price Index: Offsetting the Effects of Price Discrimination and Product Cycle Bias with a Year-Over-Year Index.”

We are asking for your feedback about whether to use this research index or the current index. We specifically want to know whether you think this proposal improves our methods and data sources. Please tell us what you think about the research new vehicles data by emailing cpixnv@bls.gov. You can send other CPI-related questions to cpi_info@bls.gov.

Research and official price indexes for new vehicles
MonthResearch index, trucks untaxedOfficial index, trucks untaxedResearch index, all vehicles untaxedOfficial index, all vehicles untaxedResearch index, cars untaxedOfficial index, cars untaxed

Dec 2007

100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0

Jan 2008

99.9100.299.6100.199.2100.0

Feb 2008

100.199.999.899.799.599.7

Mar 2008

100.899.3100.299.399.699.5

Apr 2008

99.998.799.698.999.399.2

May 2008

99.698.199.698.599.699.1

Jun 2008

100.197.7100.898.4101.599.2

Jul 2008

98.797.1100.098.3101.499.6

Aug 2008

96.395.898.397.6100.799.3

Sep 2008

95.794.797.996.9100.599.0

Oct 2008

95.894.797.896.8100.398.9

Nov 2008

95.294.797.296.999.999.0

Dec 2008

94.094.795.996.898.598.9

Jan 2009

94.095.595.797.597.899.5

Feb 2009

95.296.796.498.298.199.7

Mar 2009

95.297.496.398.597.899.7

Apr 2009

96.697.897.498.798.699.8

May 2009

96.898.197.698.998.699.9

Jun 2009

97.098.697.499.397.9100.1

Jul 2009

96.698.996.699.696.9100.3

Aug 2009

96.997.797.098.197.498.7

Sep 2009

99.098.099.498.5100.199.0

Oct 2009

98.899.899.3100.4100.0101.1

Nov 2009

99.2100.799.5101.6100.0102.5

Dec 2009

99.3100.999.2101.699.3102.5

Jan 2010

99.3101.199.2101.599.3102.1

Feb 2010

99.8101.499.5101.699.4102.1

Mar 2010

100.4101.4100.2101.4100.2101.7

Apr 2010

100.9101.2100.7101.198.3101.3

May 2010

101.0100.8100.8100.8100.7101.1

Jun 2010

101.3100.6100.9100.6100.7101.0

Jul 2010

101.5100.5101.1100.598.2100.8

Aug 2010

101.7100.5101.2100.3100.6100.6

Sep 2010

101.7100.7100.9100.5100.0100.8

Oct 2010

102.3101.0101.2100.999.7101.1

Nov 2010

102.5101.5101.2101.199.4101.2

Dec 2010

102.3101.9100.8101.498.9101.3

Jan 2011

102.4102.4100.8101.798.7101.3

Feb 2011

102.7103.3101.1102.699.2102.4

Mar 2011

103.7103.8102.0103.199.9102.9

Apr 2011

104.3104.0103.0103.5101.4103.5

May 2011

104.7104.3103.8104.3102.7104.7

Jun 2011

104.6104.3103.8104.7103.1105.5

Jul 2011

104.4104.0103.7104.5103.1105.4

Aug 2011

104.3103.7103.6104.1103.2105.1

Sep 2011

104.1103.6103.5104.1103.4105.2

Oct 2011

104.2103.8103.5104.3103.1105.2

Nov 2011

104.3104.1103.4104.4102.6105.2

Dec 2011

104.4104.3103.5104.6102.5105.3

Jan 2012

105.0105.0103.9105.0102.7105.4

Feb 2012

105.1105.9104.0105.6102.8105.8

Mar 2012

105.4106.0104.5105.6103.5105.7

Apr 2012

105.7106.1104.8105.7103.8105.9

May 2012

105.2105.8104.4105.7103.5105.9

Jun 2012

105.4105.8104.5105.6103.5105.9

Jul 2012

105.1105.5104.1105.3103.1105.5

Aug 2012

105.0105.5104.1105.2103.1105.4

Sep 2012

105.2105.6104.3105.2103.3105.3

Oct 2012

105.3105.8104.5105.4103.7105.4

Nov 2012

105.6106.2104.6105.9103.4106.1

Dec 2012

105.7106.5104.5106.2103.0106.4

Jan 2013

105.7107.1104.6106.7103.1106.8

Feb 2013

106.3107.2105.1106.8103.5106.8

Mar 2013

106.4107.4105.2106.8103.6106.8

Apr 2013

106.7107.7105.5107.0103.8106.8

May 2013

106.8107.6105.5106.8103.8106.6

Jun 2013

106.4107.8105.1106.9103.3106.4

Jul 2013

106.4107.6105.0106.6103.2106.1

Aug 2013

106.4107.3105.0106.3103.2105.8

Sep 2013

106.3107.6104.9106.4102.9105.8

Oct 2013

106.5107.6105.1106.5103.2105.7

Nov 2013

106.7107.8105.1106.6103.0105.8

Dec 2013

106.4108.0104.6106.7102.0105.9

Jan 2014

106.5108.1104.6106.7101.8106.0

Feb 2014

107.1108.6105.2107.1102.3106.3

Mar 2014

107.3108.6105.3107.1102.4106.2

Apr 2014

107.8109.0105.7107.4102.6106.4

May 2014

108.1108.9105.8107.3102.4106.4

Jun 2014

107.9108.4105.5106.9101.8106.0

Jul 2014

108.2108.6105.7106.9101.9105.9

Aug 2014

108.6108.7105.9106.7101.7105.4

Sep 2014

108.4108.7105.6106.7101.3105.4

Oct 2014

108.7109.0105.9107.1101.5105.7

Nov 2014

108.5109.2105.5107.2100.8105.9

Dec 2014

108.3109.4105.1107.2100.0105.8

Jan 2015

109.0109.3105.8107.2100.9105.8

Feb 2015

109.2109.9106.0107.8101.0106.4

Mar 2015

109.4110.2106.2108.0101.1106.5

Apr 2015

109.8110.5106.6108.2101.6106.5

May 2015

109.7110.6106.4108.2101.3106.5

Jun 2015

109.9110.5106.5108.2101.3106.5

Jul 2015

109.7110.2106.2107.7100.9105.9

Aug 2015

110.0109.8106.3107.3100.5105.5

Sep 2015

110.5109.8106.7107.2100.6105.3

Oct 2015

110.5109.8106.6107.2100.4105.2

Nov 2015

110.6110.2106.5107.499.9105.2

Dec 2015

111.0110.1106.9107.4100.4105.3

Jan 2016

111.5110.6107.3107.9100.7105.8

Feb 2016

111.8111.2107.7108.5101.2106.4

Mar 2016

112.0111.4107.8108.5101.1106.2

Apr 2016

112.2111.2108.0108.2101.3105.8

May 2016

111.9111.0107.6108.0100.7105.6

Jun 2016

111.9110.8107.4107.7100.1105.2

Jul 2016

111.1110.7106.8107.7100.0105.0

Aug 2016

111.8110.3107.3107.499.8104.7

Sep 2016

111.5110.3106.9107.299.5104.6

Oct 2016

111.3110.6106.7107.599.1104.9

Nov 2016

110.9110.6106.4107.699.0105.0

Dec 2016

111.1110.9106.5107.898.8105.1

Jan 2017

112.0111.9107.4108.999.8106.3

Feb 2017

111.8111.9107.3109.0100.0106.5

Mar 2017

112.1111.7107.3108.799.5106.0

Apr 2017

112.1111.7107.3108.699.3105.9

May 2017

111.9111.6107.1108.399.2105.5

Jun 2017

112.0111.1107.1107.899.1104.9

Jul 2017

111.9110.4106.9107.098.4103.9

Aug 2017

111.8110.2106.6106.697.9103.4

Sep 2017

111.4109.8106.3106.197.6102.8

Oct 2017

111.5109.7106.5106.097.9102.7

Nov 2017

112.0109.9106.8106.497.4103.2

Dec 2017

111.4110.7106.3107.297.9104.0

Jan 2018

111.9111.0106.9107.698.7104.4

Feb 2018

111.8110.8106.9107.498.9104.2

Mar 2018

111.2110.8106.3107.498.3104.2

Apr 2018

111.4110.3106.7106.999.3103.7

May 2018

111.1110.5106.4107.198.8104.1

Jun 2018

110.9110.6106.3107.299.1104.2

Jul 2018

111.3110.5106.7107.299.4104.3

Aug 2018

111.4110.2106.8106.999.5104.0

Sep 2018

111.3109.8106.8106.699.8103.9

Oct 2018

111.2109.6106.8106.5100.0103.9

Nov 2018

111.5109.8107.0106.799.9104.1

Dec 2018

110.7110.0106.3106.999.6104.2

Jan 2019

111.3110.8106.8107.6100.0104.8

Feb 2019

111.7111.0107.2107.7100.2104.9

Mar 2019

111.6111.5107.1108.199.9105.2

Apr 2019

112.0111.5107.4108.2100.1105.2

May 2019

112.2111.3107.6108.0100.3105.2

Jun 2019

111.7111.0107.2107.9100.6105.2

Jul 2019

111.9110.7107.4107.6100.6104.9

Aug 2019

111.5110.3106.9107.2100.2104.6

Sep 2019

111.6109.9107.1106.7100.1104.1

Oct 2019

111.9109.8107.3106.6100.3104.1

Nov 2019

111.3109.9106.8106.6100.0104.1

Dec 2019

111.2110.4106.8107.099.8104.3

Jan 2020

111.8111.0107.4107.7100.4105.1

Feb 2020

112.2111.4107.7108.2101.0105.7

Mar 2020

112.7110.9108.2107.7101.5105.2

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.

How Have We Improved the Consumer Price Index? Let Me Count the Ways

Soon after I became Commissioner, the top-notch BLS staff was briefing me on the many programs and details that make up BLS. I asked the staff working on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) if they could list for me some of the improvements that have occurred over the past few years. It has been nearly a quarter century since the Boskin Commission studied the CPI and recommended enhancements. I knew many of these enhancements had been implemented, along with other improvements. But I was shocked to see my staff come back with an 8-page, detailed listing of 77 substantive improvements that have been implemented since 1996.

You may have thought a price index that has been around since 1913 is happy to rest on its laurels. Well, you’d be wrong. There are improvements to the CPI going on all the time. As I reviewed the list, I noticed a number of improvements involve the introduction of new or changed goods and services, such as cell phones or streaming services. I also noticed improvements in how we handle product changes, as I wrote recently in a blog about quality adjustment. But these topics only scratch the surface.

I’m not going to describe every CPI enhancement that has taken place over the past 24 years; you can find much more detail on the CPI webpage. But I will whet your appetite by highlighting a few categories of improvements.

Keeping the CPI market basket up to date

The goal of the CPI is to track the change in the prices consumers pay for a representative market basket of goods and services. Let’s look at the what and where of that market basket.

  • What we collect — goods and services. We collect prices for a market basket of goods and services, designed to represent what consumers are buying. In January 2002, we switched from updating that market basket every 10 years to every 2 years, providing a better representation of current spending patterns.
  • What we collect — housing. We track the cost of housing by a separate sample of housing units. In 2010, we increased that sample to improve accuracy. In 2016 we began rotating that sample every 6 years. Previously, the housing sample was only rotated when new geographic areas were introduced after the U.S. census.
  • Where we collect — outlets. We collect prices from stores and businesses that are chosen based on where consumers shop and buy goods and services. In January 1998, we switched from updating this sample of “outlets” every 5 years to every 4 years. And in January 2020, we switched the source used to determine those outlets to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is also the source of our spending information for the market basket of goods and services people buy. Previously we used a separate survey of households to identify outlets.
  • Where we collect — geography. We collect prices for goods and services in selected geographic areas, designed to represent all urban areas of the United States. In January 2018, we updated the geographic areas, designed to represent current population trends. We last updated these areas in 1998.

Collecting CPI information

According to folklore, CPI data collection was accomplished by staff who dressed up in high fashion, the ladies in fancy hats and white gloves and the gentlemen in the finest haberdashery, who then went shopping to determine the latest prices. That’s not how it happens. CPI staff are not paid to “shop” to collect prices. We use trained experts who are skilled at gaining cooperation from many different types of businesses; ensuring they are obtaining price information for goods and services that are consistent from one month to the next or making appropriate adjustments; and gathering information from thousands of outlets about hundreds of thousands of goods and services over a short data-collection period. Let’s look at how the data-collection process has improved:

  • When we collect — In June 2005, the CPI switched from a collection period that spanned the first 15–18 days of the month to collection across the entire month. This provides more representative data, especially for items that frequently vary in price within the same month.
  • How we collect — In January 1998, the CPI began using computerized data-collection tools, which automate certain math functions and screen for errors or inconsistencies. We continue to upgrade our processes; CPI data-collection staff recently began using a new generation of tablet computers.
  • Alternative collection — Not all price information comes from traditional collection with stores. Some information comes from websites, corporate data files, third parties that combine data from different sources, and more. In fact, the CPI and other BLS programs are focused on identifying even more alternative collection methods in the coming years.

Calculating the CPI

Once we collect the prices on all these goods and services, we need to calculate an index. In simple terms, we find the difference between the price in month 1 and the price in month 2, and express that difference as a rate of change from month 1. We publish rates of change and also express current prices as an index, which is equal to 100 in a base period.

Many factors and decisions go into combining data for an item and then combining data for all items into the published CPI. We’ve improved those calculations in several ways over the past few years.

  • Geometric mean — In January 1999, the CPI switched the formula for calculating price changes at the component item level from an arithmetic mean to a geometric mean. This allows the overall index to capture substitutions consumers make across specific products within a component item category when the prices of those products change relative to one another. With the geometric mean formula, BLS does not assume consumers substitute hamburgers for steak, which are in different component categories. The formula only captures substitution within a component category, such as among types of steak.
  • More decimal places — In January 2007, the CPI began publishing index numbers to 3 decimal places, which improved consistency between published index numbers and rates of change.

New information available to the public

While the CPI has been around for over a century, we have added a number of new indexes over time, to provide a variety of inflation figures. Here are some of the newest products in the CPI family:

  • Research (Retroactive) series — The CPI Research Series incorporates many of the improvements that came out of the Boskin Commission. The series provides a pretty consistent way to measure price changes from 1978 up to the most recent full year.
  • Chained CPI series – The Chained CPI uses an alternative formula that applies spending data in consecutive months to reflect any substitution that consumers make across component item categories in response to changes in relative prices. For example, this index would capture consumer substitution of hamburger for steak. This measure is designed to come closer to a “cost-of-living” index than other BLS measures. The series was first produced in 2002.
  • Elderly research series – The CPI for the Elderly reweights the component CPI data based on the spending patterns of elderly households. This series, mandated by Congress, began in 1988. In 2008, we extended the series retrospectively back to 1982.

As I have mentioned in the past, we are always working to improve the CPI. We recently contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to provide guidance on a variety of issues. I’ll use this space to report on the Committee’s work, as well as other improvements underway in the CPI.

Improving the Accuracy of the Consumer Price Index

We are in the “hot stove” months of the baseball year, when teams make trades and other decisions to improve their prospects for next season. Even the best teams, like the World Champion Washington Nationals, can’t rest on their laurels. In much the same way the Nationals continue to tinker with a good thing to make it better, we constantly work to improve our gold standard products, including the Consumer Price Index (CPI). There’s a lot going on with the CPI these days, and we’ll use this blog and other publications to share the latest information. You’ll read about how we reflect changes in consumer spending patterns, (including new goods), how we’re using other rich sources of data on prices and spending, how we’re accounting for changes in the quality of goods and services, and much more. So let’s get started.

The CPI is designed to measure the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The CPI is used to determine annual cost-of-living allowances for Social Security beneficiaries. The CPI also is used to adjust the federal income tax system for inflation and as the yardstick for U.S. Treasury inflation-indexed bonds. These are just a few of the many uses of the CPI.

The CPI dates back to 1912, when the Washington baseball team was called the Senators and Walter Johnson ruled the mound. Throughout the history of the CPI, there has been debate about the concepts the CPI should measure and whether it might overstate or understate changes in consumer living costs. The CPI has undergone methodological changes both in response to these discussions and to reflect the changing economic environment. If we hadn’t made these changes, transportation, medical care, recreation, and other goods and services would still be combined into one “miscellaneous” category. Taking the long view, we can track major shifts in consumer inflation for more than a century.

Chart showing 12-month percent change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), 1914 to 2019

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in our database at data.bls.gov/timeseries/CUUR0000SA0

In the 1960s, a committee commissioned by Congress recommended that BLS move the CPI closer toward a cost-of-living measure. We responded to those recommendations by creating the CPI for all urban consumers (CPI-U). The former index for urban wage earners was relabeled as the CPI-W. Today, the CPI-U represents the spending patterns of about 93 percent of the population, while the CPI-W represents the spending patterns of about 29 percent.

Here are a few more recent milestones in the history of the CPI:

  • In 1988, following direction from Congress, BLS began calculating the CPI for Americans age 62 and older—called the CPI-E—as an experimental index.
  • In the early 1990s, Congress directed another study of the CPI, popularly referred to as the Boskin Commission. This commission estimated the CPI was overstating the rise in the cost of living and recommended changes in the way the CPI is designed and estimated.
  • In response, BLS sponsored a project in 2002 with the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) to investigate conceptual, measurement, and other statistical issues in the development of cost-of-living indexes. At this point, we have adopted completely, partially, or experimentally almost all of the CNSTAT recommendations. This includes developing and publishing the Chained CPI, which broadly accounts for consumer substitution of goods and services.

But we can’t stop researching and improving. Today, consumers buy goods and services that weren’t even known a decade ago. And we buy things in many different ways, including from the living room sofa. The growth of e-commerce has created enormous opportunities, but also challenges, for measuring inflation. We continue to work on improvements in response to these developments, and we will talk more about them in future blogs and other publications. In addition, we recently sponsored another CNSTAT panel to investigate three key methodological issues for the CPI:

  1. How best to incorporate data on transactions?
  2. How best to integrate other data sources in the indexes for health insurance, owner-occupied housing, and durable goods?
  3. How to lessen certain types of substitution bias, such as when consumers purchase chicken when the price of steak increases? (Our methods already do a good job accounting for shifts between more similar items, such as between steak and ground beef.)

CNSTAT will convene an expert panel and hold a workshop. Both the panel kickoff and the workshop will be open to the public and will be announced in advance on the BLS website. The panel will then spend about a year in internal discussions and preparing a written report for our consideration.

We expect the CNSTAT report in May of 2021—new ideas, to go with the start of a new baseball season. I’ll be back to blog about the results, so be sure to check back here.

Labor Day 2019 Fast Facts

I have been Commissioner of Labor Statistics for 5 months now, and I continue to be amazed by the range and quality of data we publish about the U.S. labor market and the well-being of American workers. As we like to say at BLS, we really do have a stat for that! We won’t rest on what we have done, however. We continue to strive for more data and better data to help workers, jobseekers, students, businesses, and policymakers make informed decisions. Labor Day is a good time to reflect on where we are. This year is the 125th anniversary of celebrating Labor Day as a national holiday. Before you set out to enjoy the long holiday weekend, take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled on 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 63.0 percent in July 2019. The rate had trended down from the 2000s through the early 2010s, but it has remained fairly steady since 2014.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July. In April and May, the rate hit its lowest point, 3.6 percent, since 1969.
  • In July, there were 1.2 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 19.2 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share in late 2006.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 12.8 percent in July 2019, while the rates were 3.4 percent for both adult women and adult men. The unemployment rate was 6.0 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 4.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 2.8 percent for Asians, and 3.3 percent for Whites.

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.6 percent from July 2018 to July 2019. After adjusting for inflation in consumer prices, real average weekly earnings were up 0.8 percent during this period.
  • Civilian compensation (wage and benefit) costs increased 2.7 percent in June 2019 from a year earlier. After adjusting for inflation, real compensation costs rose 1.1 percent over the year.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to most private industry workers. The access rates in March 2018 were 71 percent for sick leave, 77 percent for vacation, and 78 percent for holidays.
  • About 91 percent of civilian workers with access to paid holidays receive Labor Day as a paid holiday.
  • In March 2018, civilian workers with employer-provided medical plans paid 20 percent of the cost of medical care premiums for single coverage and 32 percent for family coverage.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity—output per hour worked—in the U.S. nonfarm business sector grew 1.8 percent from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2019.
  • Some industries had much faster growth in 2018, including electronic shopping and mail-order houses (10.6 percent) and wireless telecommunications carriers (10.1 percent).
  • Multifactor productivity in the private nonfarm business sector rose 1.0 percent in 2018. That growth is 0.2 percentage point higher than the average annual rate of 0.8 percent from 1987 to 2018.

Safety and Health

Unionization

  • The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.

Work Stoppages

  • In the first 7 months of 2019, there have been 307,500 workers involved in major work stoppages that began this year. (Major work stoppages are strikes or lockouts that involve 1,000 or more workers and last one full shift or longer.) For all of 2018, there were 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages, the largest number since 1986, when about 533,100 workers were involved.
  • There have been 15 work stoppages beginning in 2019. For all of 2018, 20 work stoppages began during the year.

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 22 percent of employment in 2018. 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 18 of the 30 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2016 and 2026, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry. Be sure to check out our updated employment projections, covering 2018 to 2028, that we will publish September 4!

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.