Tag Archives: Data visualization

Meet Our New Science and Technology Fellow at BLS

Samantha Tyner
Samantha Tyner

Seeing that we are the U.S. Bureau of LABOR Statistics, we go the extra mile to attract the highest quality labor to accomplish our mission. This includes over 2,000 permanent staff scattered around the country. We also partner with state employees on several BLS programs, and we work with contractors and others to get the job done. Further, we look for opportunities to bring in specialized talent to help with some projects, such as the Civic Digital Fellows who joined us this past summer. Today I want to recognize the first-ever Science and Technology Policy Fellow to spend time at BLS — Samantha Tyner.

The Science & Technology Policy Fellowship is a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). To understand this program in a nutshell, let me quote directly from their website:

“AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) provide opportunities to outstanding scientists and engineers to learn first-hand about policymaking and contribute their knowledge and analytical skills in the policy realm. Fellows serve yearlong assignments in the federal government and represent a broad range of backgrounds, disciplines, and career stages. Each year, STPF adds to a growing corps over 3,000 strong of policy-savvy leaders working across academia, government, nonprofits, and industry to serve the nation and citizens around the world.”

This is the first year BLS has worked with AAAS to bring on a Science and Technology Fellow. We are so fortunate that Samantha (Sam) Tyner started in September and will be with us over the next year. Sam, one of about 200 fellows in the current class, earned her Ph.D. in statistics from Iowa State University and was most recently a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence. She is working in the BLS Office of Survey Methods Research (OSMR), focusing on interactive data visualization, text mining, and effective communications to wider audiences.

Let’s find out a little bit about Sam and her fellowship. I asked her what drew her to the federal government. She said she knew pretty early on in graduate school that she didn’t want to go the traditional professor route. She also wasn’t particularly interested in working in one of those internet giants, where the statistics are interesting but the focus is on getting people to click more. She wanted to find ways to use her statistical skills to solve real world problems, and government seemed like a good place for that.

Her first impressions of BLS have been positive. “It’s like hanging out with a bunch of professors, but the staff in OSMR is much more laid back.” One of her current projects involves text mining of BLS mentions on Twitter — what are people saying about us. We’ll use this research to learn how we can better serve our customers.

Another project involves BLS data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. There is so much data each quarter, down to the county level. She is developing an R Shiny app that will graph these data and allow users to do quick searches. I got to see a quick demo — impressive work after only 2 months on the job.

She is an expert in data visualization, so I asked her what she thinks of some of the charts that BLS produces. I think she was a bit reluctant to criticize, but the comment “you do have a lot of bar charts” was very telling. She describes her goal as to “take a sad chart and make it better.” We certainly welcome her guidance and look forward to producing fewer sad charts in the future.

Beyond all the work Sam is doing at BLS, she also provides posts on the AAAS blog, focusing on some practical aspects of her research. A recent blog taps into her expertise on data visualization. She writes about a problem that can sometimes occur when charts provide too much information. We hope we are not making this mistake with BLS charts.

I’m glad that Samantha has gotten a good start to her Fellowship. We are planning to take full advantage of her research and skills to improve BLS products. I asked her what will make this year a success. Her response — a job offer. Maybe at BLS, or at one of many government agencies where she can use her skills. She will be an asset anywhere she goes.

Modernizing BLS News Releases for the Next Generation

At BLS we are always trying to refine our products to serve our customers better. Over the years, we have updated several of our publications to be more web-friendly and include more interactive features. One major exception has been news releases. In the past few years we have conducted a great deal of outreach and investigation with our news release readers to understand what would make our releases easier to digest and provide greater context to the data. The outcome of this research is the two news release prototypes we’re presenting.

On our beta site, you can find prototypes for the Consumer Price Index and The Employment Situation news releases. We incorporated interactive charts, downloadable excel tables, and a redesigned technical note (now called “About this release”).

We’d love to hear what you think! Please either drop a comment here, or on our beta site, so we can better refine these prototypes for future news releases.

Building a Business? Start Here

You have an idea.

It’s time to get serious about it.

Entrepreneurial drive got you to this point, but now it’s time to chart a plan. For that you need a reliable overview of the factors that can lead to a flourishing business — or work against it.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Business Builder application is designed to provide small business owners with key data to give them a clear-eyed view of their potential market. This data-mapping tool combines data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Economic Census, and County Business Patterns, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

For version 2.6 of the tool, released this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has collaborated with the Census Bureau to include data from our Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). QCEW is based on quarterly mandatory reports to the Unemployment Insurance systems in each state, covering more than 95 percent of the jobs in the U.S. economy. It is the most complete and current source of data on employment and wages at a detailed geographic and industry level.

To help illustrate why this tool is so useful, and why the data from the QCEW broadens that usefulness, I’ll make up an example.

Ever since you can remember, your grandmother, who was born and raised just outside of Naples, has fed you a type of pizza full of unusual flavors that has never been equaled in all your travels. As you grew and came into your own as a cook, she entrusted you with her secret knowledge, like a magician passing along her repertoire to a favored protégé.

Ever since, you’ve dreamed of sharing the pleasures of that delicacy with the world, and you’re going to start with a pizzeria somewhere near your home in Olympia, Washington. You may ask yourself: What exactly does the restaurant market look like in Olympia? Who are my potential customers? What kind of wages do they earn?

The Census Business Builder is a good place to start.

Census Business Builder home screen

Here, you can enter the type of establishment you’d like to research, as well as the area where you intend to do business. You find that data are not available for Olympia, but knowing that Olympia is the county seat, you are able to search in Thurston County.

The resulting map provides data on income, education, wages, and perhaps most importantly for you, the number of similar establishments in the area – also known as your competition.

Map of Thurston County, Washington, showing Census Business Builder search results

With the new QCEW data, another crucial batch of information is at your fingertips: more up-to-date establishment counts, employment numbers, and wages. It also provides an important metric known as the location quotient. This measure lets you compare an industry’s employment concentration or wages in your search area with the country as a whole. Will you be able to hire enough staff? What might you need to pay them if you want the best in the business?

Map of Thurston County, Washington, showing Census Business Builder search results with QCEW location quotient

The possibilities advance from this example as far as your entrepreneurial mind wants to take them. It is you, after all, who will transform these numbers into the real-world business that fulfills your vision. Our job as public servants is to give you the most relevant tools to realize that transformation. We’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Census Bureau to bring you this vital information in this user-friendly format.

The Census Business Builder is updated twice per year using feedback that comes from customers and stakeholders, including small business owners, trade associations and other government agencies. The update also adds QCEW data into the Regional Analyst version of the tool, which is designed for chambers of commerce and regional planning staff who need a broad portrait of the people and businesses in their area. The December release, for example, will add more QCEW features to the Regional Analyst version.

BLS publishes data from the QCEW program every quarter in the County Employment and Wages news release. QCEW data are available through our Open Data Access and the QCEW Databases.

Improved Mapping Tool for Local Area Unemployment Statistics

We publish thousands of unemployment rates each month for states, metro areas, and counties. That can make them hard to follow, but we just upgraded our mapping tool to make it easy. Instead of wading through all those numbers, just check out the latest maps for what you need. We have rebuilt the tool using a more modern and versatile mapping technology. That will make it easier to update with future geographic changes. We have improved several features of the tool:

  • We have added tooltips to help you identify each area and its data. Just hover over an area on the map to see its information.
  • In the tab for state data that are not seasonally adjusted, you can choose a state and pull up a map of that state’s county data for the same period.
  • The metro area tab has returned and reflects the areas currently used by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics program.
  • You can choose the dates, states, areas, and measures you want to see.
  • You can select the key data ranges to highlight all areas in the same group. (Click or press the range a second time to deselect.)
  • The map space is larger and framed.
  • Use the arrow in the lower right corner of the map space to print the map image or export it to .PNG, .JPEG, and .SVG formats.

Missouri map showing counties and their unemployment rates

We hope these improved maps make finding data for your state and local area easier. Let us know what you think.

BLS Local Data App Now Available for Android Devices

The wait is over! The BLS Local Data app — a mobile application that connects users with the data they need to know about local labor markets — is now available for Android devices. Search “BLS Local Data” in Google Play.

The BLS Local Data app, first released for iPhones last fall, uses the BLS API to present local data and national comparisons for unemployment rates, employment, and wages. You can search using your current location, a zip code, or a location name to find relevant data quickly without having to navigate through the huge BLS database. With one click, you can find data for states, metro areas, or counties.

BLS continues to partner with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to expand the features and data in the app. A second version is in development and will be available soon for both iPhone and Android devices. Version 2.0 will include employment and wage data for detailed industries and occupations. It also will have new charting functionality that will allow users to plot the historical unemployment rate time series for their local area of interest.

Check out the app and bring the wealth of local labor market data produced by BLS directly to your mobile devices!

The BLS Local Data App showing employment and wage data for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.