Tag Archives: Data visualization

Labor Day 2017 Fast Facts

Since 1884, ten years before President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been providing gold-standard data for and about American workers.

In honor of Labor Day, let’s take a look at some fast facts we’ve compiled that show 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 62.9 percent in August. The rate has generally been trending down since the early 2000s, although it has leveled off in recent years.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in August. The rate has shown little movement in recent months after declining earlier in the year. The last time the unemployment rate was lower was in 2000 and early 2001.
  • In August, there were 1.7 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 24.7 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and 2007.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 13.6 percent in August, while the rates were 4.1 percent for adult men and 4.0 percent for adult women. The unemployment rate was 7.7 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 5.2 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.0 percent for Asians, and 3.9 percent for Whites. 

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.8 percent between July 2016 and July 2017; adjusted for inflation, real average weekly earnings are up 1.1 percent during this period.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to a majority of private industry workers, where the access rates were 68 percent for sick leave, 76 percent for vacation, and 77 percent for holidays in March 2017.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of private industry workers participated in employer-sponsored medical care benefits in March 2017.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses increased 0.9 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Although productivity is growing at a historically slow pace since the Great Recession, the manufacturing sector recently posted the strongest productivity growth in 21 quarters, growing 2.5 percent in the second quarter of 2017. 

Safety and Health

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 21 percent of employment. 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 11 of the 15 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2014 and 2024, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry.

Unionization

Work Stoppages

  • Over the past four decades, major work stoppages (a strike or lockout) declined approximately 90 percent. From 1977 to 1986 there were 1,446 major work stoppages, while in 2007–16, there were 143.

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.

Now on Video: Finding Better Ways to Talk about Data

Our mission at BLS is to help people understand what’s going on in the labor market and the economy. Since our founding in 1884, we’ve aided that understanding by improving our products. We didn’t start with stone tablets, but we have produced mountains of paper and its electronic equivalent in 133 years. Whether it’s news releases or articles or bulletins, most of our output includes text, tables, and, more recently, graphics. Recently we have added another medium to our library, using video to tell stories about our data. We are pleased to introduce you to “Beth’s Bird Houses,” “What if there were only 100 jobs in the United States,” and more, now available on video.

Why video? Video lets us provide a large amount of information in a shorter time. We know you are busy, and we want to use your time wisely. We will always need written words and tables and charts to provide the details of our economic analyses and survey methods, but video helps us provide the main points more quickly. Video is also easy to share through social media, helping us reach more people.

The first video we produced is about our statistics on productivity. Productivity statistics are among the most technically complex data we produce. Despite their complexity, we believe it’s important to understand productivity statistics because productivity directly affects workers’ pay and the nation’s standard of living. We produced a video that explains in about 2 minutes the essential elements of productivity statistics. How’s that for being productive? Check it out and let us know how you enjoy it.

We recently posted two videos about the Employment Cost Index, which measures changes in the costs to employers of worker pay and benefits. One video explains what the Employment Cost Index is. The other video explains how the Employment Cost Index is used.

Want to know more about the different types of jobs workers have in the United States? What about workplace hazards and the safety of America’s workers? We have new videos on those subjects too, and we expect to keep adding to the list to keep you informed. You can see all of our videos on our video page.

Our customers use BLS information to support their private and public decision making. Our mission is to remain relevant to a diverse set of data users regardless of their technical expertise. We believe it’s important not just to tell people what the numbers are but to explain what they mean and where they come from. Video gives us new opportunities to reach a wider audience with our information. As they say in the movies, roll ‘em.

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.

Why the Unemployment Rate Still Matters

Just like your body, the economy is a superbly complex system. When you visit doctors or other healthcare providers, they routinely take several measurements — height, weight, blood pressure, and temperature. Tracking these vital signs over time can lead you and your healthcare providers to seek further tests. Yet, even when your healthcare providers need more information, they continue to take the basic measurements.

In much the same way, the government routinely measures the health of the economy. Here at BLS, we specialize in tracking labor market activity, working conditions, productivity, and price changes. One of our most important measures is the national unemployment rate. Since it is measured the same way each month, year after year, changes in the rate can be an important signal of changes in the labor market and economy.

We realize, of course, that the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the full story. It isn’t meant to. Much like your temperature is a necessary measurement, its usefulness increases when viewed with other measures. When we release the unemployment rate each month, we also publish five alternative measures of labor underutilization to help assess labor market conditions from several perspectives.

Chart showing trends in alternative measures of labor underutilization.

In addition, the source for the unemployment data, the Current Population Survey, provides a wealth of information about workers, jobseekers, and people who aren’t working or looking for work. For example, we also get information about trends in labor force participation, a topic that has received much public attention in recent years. BLS releases thousands of other measures monthly, quarterly, and annually, depending on the topic.

For example, if you want to know how adult Black men are performing in the labor market, we have a stat for that. Ditto for people with a less than high school education or veterans with service-connected disabilities.

And if you want to know how employers are doing (say, how many job openings they’ve posted and how many workers have been fired or quit their jobs in the past month), check out our Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

Want to know what is happening in your local area? Not a problem. Each month BLS releases state employment and unemployment data and metropolitan area data too.

We invite you to visit our website or contact one of our expert economists next time you have a question about the health of labor market—or your favorite economic “symptom.”

Measuring Uncertainty in the Producer Price Index

Our mission at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is to publish information about the labor market and economy. We always seek to improve our methods and provide the most accurate data in a cost-effective manner. All statistics, however, come with some uncertainty. Last year I wrote about how we deal with uncertainty in our measures. Today let’s talk about how we recently have improved our uncertainty measures in the Producer Price Index.

You may think it’s odd that an agency that tells the public what we know also works hard to explain what we don’t know. It may seem like we’re airing our dirty laundry, but that’s not how we see it. At BLS, one of our core values is to be transparent about our methods. Not only don’t we consider the laundry dirty, but we believe that airing it—that is, giving you more information about the strengths and the limitations of our data—is central to our mission. It’s part of our responsibility to give you information you can use to make better decisions.

The Producer Price Index (PPI) program measures the average change over time in the prices U.S. businesses receive for the goods they produce and the services they provide. BLS started publishing the PPI 126 years ago, making it one of our oldest measures. In 2014, the PPI expanded its coverage to provide a broader view of price change for goods, services, and construction. The PPI for final demand measures price change for goods and services sold for personal consumption, capital investment, government, and export. The PPI for intermediate demand tracks price change for goods, services, and construction products sold to businesses.

The PPI for final demand was unchanged in October 2016 and was up 0.8 percent over the last 12 months. But these figures are subject to sampling error. What’s that? It’s the uncertainty that results when we collect data from a sample of prices, rather than gathering prices from each of the millions of transactions that occur every day. For the PPI, we collect about 93,500 prices every month. A different sample of prices might give us different estimates of price change. Fortunately, we have tools to measure this sampling error. Most BLS programs collect data from sample surveys because it is far too expensive and would overburden businesses and workers to send all our surveys to everyone. Instead, we select samples carefully using scientific methods. These sampling methods work well, but they can’t avoid the possibility that the characteristics of a sample may differ from those of the population. We provide estimates of this sampling error by publishing variance estimates with the data. We recently released the first-ever variance estimates for the PPI.

If you aren’t into math, skip the next paragraph.

The measure of variance we use for the PPI is called a standard error. We use the standard error to calculate what statisticians call a confidence interval around the estimate. For example, the 1-month median absolute percent change in the PPI for final demand in 2015 was 0.30 percent. The standard error of that median was 0.11 percent. We can use these two numbers to calculate a confidence interval. In this example, we will use what we call a 95-percent confidence interval. To calculate that confidence interval, we take the estimated median price change of 0.30 percent, plus and minus two times the standard error of 0.11 percent. This gives us a confidence interval between 0.08 percent and 0.52 percent. We call this a 95-percent confidence interval because, if we were to choose 100 different samples of producer prices, the median price change would be between 0.08 percent and 0.52 percent in 95 of those samples.

Chart showing median 1-month changes in Producer Price Indexes in 2015 and the 95-percent confidence intervals around those changes.

OK, if you don’t like math, you can come back now. The chart above shows estimates of 1-month PPI changes (the red dots) each surrounded by its sampling uncertainty (the blue bars). If the blue bar crosses the 0.0 percent line, it means the change is not significantly different from zero.

Variance estimates are just one way BLS evaluates and explains the quality of our data and our methods. We have published information about our methods almost since our beginnings in 1884. Carroll Wright, the first BLS Commissioner, insisted on the “fearless publication of the facts.” We believe the fearless publication of the facts means not just explaining our measures and methods in highly technical terms. We want our measures and the uncertainty around them to be understood by a wide range of people, not just those who have advanced degrees in economics or statistics. We continue to seek clearer ways to explain uncertainty. One way is a new chart we are publishing on the monthly changes in nonfarm employment. In the future, we hope to publish more charts like this and simpler explanations of our methods. If you have ideas on how we can explain our data and methods more clearly, please share them with us below.

BLS data are the gold standard of economic statistics. But even gold bars have marks to indicate their impurities. Similarly, we at BLS don’t hide our impurities. We want you to understand the strengths and limitations of our data so you can use that knowledge to make good decisions.