Tag Archives: Employment Situation

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.

Greetings and a Meditation on Alan Krueger

William W. Beach became the 15th Commissioner of Labor Statistics in March 2019.

I am a little late with my first blog, but I’m sure readers can appreciate what it means to start this job as Commissioner of Labor Statistics on a week that ends in the publication of the Employment Situation report.

Every moment of my first week at BLS has been highlighted by the unfailing grace and cheerfulness of the career staff.

I felt very strongly that my first blog as BLS Commissioner should be about the late Alan Krueger’s pioneering work, particularly as it relates to both the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A Meditation on Alan Krueger
(1960 – 2019)

I have been thinking a lot about Alan Krueger since his passing on March 16. Thinking about the loss, of course: the shock of losing such a penetrating mind, such a courageous scholar. And thinking about the insights and breakthroughs he could yet have made: at 58, Alan Krueger was striding strongly.

The past three weeks have seen a steady flow of recollections in the popular and professional press. Let me recommend two highly accessible pieces: Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley’s New York Times essay and Larry Summers’s deeply thoughtful recollection in the Washington Post. There are more out there and more to come.

I’m writing today to remind us of Professor Krueger’s close ties to our daily work. He, indeed, connected in so many ways. First, he was a consummate though sometimes reluctant government economist. Dr. Krueger served as the Department of Labor’s chief economist from 1994 to 1995, returned to the federal government service in 2009 as an assistant secretary in the Treasury Department from 2009 through 2010, and finally served on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2011 through 2013.

This service record as a government economist, as important as it is, is not Professor Krueger’s deepest tie to BLS. Rather, and second, he stood out among peers for his leadership as an empirical economist. Starting with his celebrated study of the economic effects of the minimum wage in 1994, when he and David Card pioneered the use of natural experiments in policy analysis, to his recent pathbreaking work on the opioid crisis, Alan Krueger made important contributions to our understanding of work and public policy through innovative use of data.

This is what ties him most to us, in my view. His sometimes controversial conclusions to one side, Professor Krueger looked at the world when he wrote. That may seem an obvious posture for any economist, but too often analysts look elsewhere: for instance, they wrap themselves in strictly theoretical work or confine their own work to the research channels that others have dredged. While theory and replication are essential parts of our profession, they cannot substitute for an active curiosity about the real world and how it is changing. Unless you’re looking out into the world, you may never see the amazing, new developments there that could inspire you to grow beyond the current limits of your economic understanding.

It will take time to define Alan Krueger’s legacy in economics and public policy, but this much is already clear: he left a strong marker of what it means to be a labor economist and a public servant, and he showed two generations of labor researchers that the most fruitful laboratory for economic science is the swirling, crazy world outside our office doors.

Tracking the Changing Nature of Work: the Process Continues

The days of working the same 9-to-5 job for 40 years are a fading memory. Work today may involve multiple part-time jobs, working from home, obtaining work through a mobile device, and changing jobs frequently. The so-called “changing nature of work” is already here, and at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we are trying to keep up with this new world.

One of our primary sources of information on Americans’ labor market activity is the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of households that provides a real-time snapshot of the share of the population who are employed and unemployed. These data are complemented by other BLS programs that focus on labor turnover, how Americans spend their time, details about local labor markets, and other topics.

But how well do these programs track nontraditional forms of employment, including short-term assignments, platform work, temporary help, and jobs so new and different we haven’t even named them yet? BLS has been working on these issues for many years. Let’s consider a few timely questions and see how BLS has responded.

Not all jobs are permanent. What do we know about jobs that are not expected to last?

Throughout its history, BLS has been exploring perceived changes in the nature of work. For example, an article in the October 1996 Monthly Labor Review described “…reports of corporate downsizing, production streamlining, and increasing use of temporary workers…” as raising questions about “…employers’ commitment to long term, stable employment relationships.” This article, and many others in the same issue, went on to introduce the first “Contingent Worker Supplement” (CWS) to the CPS. Supplements such as this are additional questions on specific topics generally asked once (as opposed to every month) of CPS households.

The CWS asks about jobs that are not expected to last, as well as alternative work arrangements, such as working as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency. While not an ongoing BLS program, we received funding to conduct the supplement in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, and 2017. This allows us to track contingent work over time. In May 2017, there were 5.9 million contingent workers – those who did not expect their job to last. This represented 3.8 percent of the total employed. Twelve years earlier, a slightly higher percentage, 4.1 percent, did not expect their job to last.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs

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

How many people are in different types of jobs, such as independent contractors?

The CWS also included questions to identify people who were in four types of alternative work arrangements:

  • Independent contractors
  • On-call workers
  • Temporary help agency workers
  • Workers provided by contract firms

The most prevalent of these arrangements was independent contractors. The 10.6 million independent contractors identified in May 2017 represented 6.9 percent of the total employed.

Percent of employed in alternative arrangements

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

Does BLS have a measure of the “gig” economy?

BLS does not have a definition of the gig economy or gig workers. In fact, researchers use many different definitions when they talk about the gig economy. You may think of a gig as something your high school band played on a Saturday night. Or today you might consider your ride-share driver as performing a gig. Classifying workers as gig could get very confusing. For example:

  • A plumber or electrician may be on the payroll of a contracting company on the weekdays and obtain individual jobs through an app on the weekend. Gig worker?
  • A substitute teacher in one school district may obtain assignments and pay through traditional means, while the neighboring district assigns and pays workers through an app. Is one a gig worker?

Confused? So am I. To repeat, BLS does not have a definition of gig. Definitions developed by others may overlap with contingent workers and some of those in alternative employment arrangements in the CWS. Rather than try to develop such a definition, BLS chose to focus new questions narrowly, as you will see in the next section.

What about work obtained through an app?

In preparing for the 2017 CWS, and knowing the interest in work obtained through an app on a phone or other mobile device, BLS added four questions about short jobs or tasks that workers find through an app or website that both links them with customers and arranges payment. Separate questions asked about in-person work (such as driving for a ride-sharing company or providing dog-walking services) and online-only work (such as coding medical records). At BLS, we call these jobs “electronically mediated employment.”

While BLS conducted some testing of the questions on electronically mediated employment and vetted them with a variety of stakeholders, the results made it clear that people had difficulty understanding the questions. This effort resulted in many false-positive answers, such as a surgeon who said all of his work was obtained through an app. BLS used companion information, where available, to recode responses. To be completely transparent, BLS published both the original and recoded data, but we encourage data users to focus on the recoded information. These results indicate that 1 percent of the employed in May 2017 – about 1.6 million people – held electronically mediated jobs. A slightly higher number of workers (990,000) held in-person jobs than online-only jobs (701,000). Note that some workers indicated they had both types of jobs.

Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 and older.

Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017

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

Maybe these “app” jobs are a second job. Do we know how many people hold more than one job?

We get information from the CPS each month on the number of workers who hold more than one job. In 2018, there were 7.8 million multiple jobholders – about 5.0 percent of total employment in 2018. That’s around the same share of employment it has been since 2010, but it was below the rates recorded during the mid-1990s, which were above 6.0 percent.

With all these new types of work, is the BLS monthly employment information missing anyone?

As noted, the CPS is an authoritative source of labor market information and has provided consistent data for over three-quarters of a century. But BLS is always looking to improve its measures, and there are other data sources that can supplement the CPS. For example, the American Time Use Survey obtains information about an individual’s activities during a 24-hour period. Among the categories that may be identified are “income-generating activities,” such as making pottery for pay, playing in a band for pay, and mowing lawns for pay.

Recently, BLS looked at people who were not counted as “employed” but who participate in income-generating activities. The research suggested that between 657,000 and 4.6 million people participated in income-generating activities but were not otherwise counted as employed in the survey. Given that total employment is around 155 million Americans, this undercount ranges from 0.4 to 3.0 percent of the total.

The study also examined the extent that employed people who did informal work in addition to a regular job might not be correctly classified as multiple jobholders. The research found that reclassifying workers misclassified as single jobholders would increase the number of multiple jobholders somewhere between 3.0 percent and 20.7 percent.

What more is BLS doing to improve labor market measures?

So, yes, BLS is doing a lot to improve our labor market measures, and the work continues. We know there is likely a small number of people who are not counted as employed yet perform income-generating activities. We know that definitions and concepts may need to be updated from time to time. We know that some terms, like “gig,” are not well defined and mean different things to different people. And we know it is not easy to define or identify electronically mediated employment.

Given all this, we continue to move forward. BLS has contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to convene an expert panel to address these issues and provide recommendations to BLS. This work began in late 2018 with a report due in early 2020. BLS will review the recommendations and, resources permitting, develop plans to test any new concepts or questions.

There’s been interest in emerging types of work for many years. It’s also a moving target, as the “changing nature of work” keeps changing. BLS has provided gold-standard data on America’s labor force for many years and will continue to research and refine and improve.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs
Year Percent of employed
February 1995 4.9%
February 1997 4.4
February 1999 4.3
February 2001 4.0
February 2005 4.1
May 2017 3.8
Percent of employed in alternative arrangements
Alternative arrangement May 2017 February 2005 February 2001 February 1999 February 1997 February 1995
Independent contractors 6.9% 7.4% 6.4% 6.3% 6.7% 6.7%
On-call workers 1.7 1.8 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7
Temporary help agency workers 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0
Workers provided by contract firms 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5
Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017
Workers 16 to 24 years 25 to 54 years 55 years and older
Total employed 12.4% 64.4% 23.1%
Workers with electronically mediated jobs 10.3 71.2 18.5
Electronically mediated jobs, in-person work 7.4 72.5 20.1
Electronically mediated jobs, online work 15.7 69.6 14.8

What Do We Know about Mega Metros?

Not only does BLS produce nationwide economic indicators, but we also have a treasure trove of data for metropolitan areas across the country.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 62.9 percent of our country’s 325.7 million people live in incorporated places. To celebrate our metro areas, we looked at the data for our six largest ones. We started with five but expanded to six, and you’ll soon see why.

Just a little history

You can track our march west as a nation, and, later, to the Sun Belt, in this list of the six most populous U.S. cities:

  1. New York City: Since the first census in 1790, New York has been our most populous city. Its population of 8.6 million makes it more than twice as large as the next largest city, Los Angeles.
  2. Los Angeles City: With a population of about 4 million, Los Angeles first showed up on the top-five list with the 1930 Census.
  3. Chicago City: Even with little population growth over the last several years, Chicago remains the third-largest city, with a population of 2.7 million. Chicago first showed up on the top-five city list in 1870.
  4. Houston City: And now we get to the Sun Belt, which seems to expand every year. Houston, with a population of 2.3 million, was a top-five city starting in 1980.
  5. Phoenix City: In 2016, Phoenix beat out Philadelphia for the number five spot on the most populous city list. In July 2017, its population was 1.6 million.
  6. Philadelphia City: Since Philadelphia was the second most populous city in 1790 and remained within the top five until Phoenix nudged it out in 2016, we kept it on our list. Philadelphia’s population is almost 1.6 million.

What makes a metro area great?

That’s easy—its people! So what’s happening with the people in each metro area? Are they working? Where do they work? What type of work? What are their earnings? How do they spend their money?

For the rest of this blog, we will use the Office of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas to define our mega metros:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Chicago- Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD Metropolitan Statistical Area

We won’t use these long titles, but we will compare the areas listed above.

What’s the unemployment rate?

In November 2018, the national unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. Los Angeles had the highest rate (4.2 percent) among these six areas. Phoenix (3.9 percent), Houston (3.8 percent), Chicago (3.8 percent), Philadelphia (3.6 percent) and New York (3.3 percent) round out our list. New York had the largest over-the-year decrease in their unemployment rate among these six areas from November 2017 to November 2018 (-0.9 percentage point). Los Angeles was the only one of the six metro areas that had an over-the-year increase (+0.2 percentage point) in the unemployment rate.

How about the number of jobs? Has that been going up?

As we walk around our metro areas, we will see more folks going to work than a year ago. Nonfarm payroll employment increased for all of these areas from November 2017 to November 2018. Two showed growth rates above the national average—4.2 percent in Phoenix and 3.7 percent in Houston. The other four areas showed growth rates of 1.5 percent or lower. The national growth rate was 1.6 percent.

Where are people employed? What industries?

What industries employ the most workers? Trade, transportation, and utilities is the biggest industry, with 28.5 million workers nationwide. Education and health services (24.1 million workers) comes in second.

As we walk around each of these metro areas, what industries will we see employing our workers? Basically the same as the nation! In four of the six areas (all but New York and Philadelphia), trade, transportation, and utilities is the biggest industry. For both New York and Philadelphia, the biggest industry is education and health services.

What kind of occupations do people have?

What occupations do these folks have? This might sound like what we just covered, but occupation and industry are different. For example, I’m an economist (occupation) who works in government (public administration industry), but I could be an economist who works in a bank (financial activities industry).

I must admit I was surprised that, for all of our metro areas and the nation, these are the three largest occupational groups for our workers: office and administrative support occupations, sales and related occupations, and food preparation and serving related occupations. So as you walk around these metro areas, you will see people hurrying to work on a computer, sell an item, or cook a meal!

What about earnings? Do they vary much by metro area?

Nationwide, average hourly earnings in November 2018 for all employees were $27.28. Phoenix had the lowest average hourly earnings among these six areas, at $27.22. The highest average hourly earnings were in New York, $32.83. That’s a difference of $5.61 per hour between the highest and lowest averages among these six metro areas.

Where do folks spend their money?

Because of small sample sizes for metro areas, we’ll use an average of 2016–17 data on consumer spending for metro areas and the United States. Consumers in the three largest areas—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—all allocate a larger share of their total spending to housing than the national average. The U.S. housing average is 33 percent, while New Yorkers spend about 39 percent on housing. The percentage of households that own their homes also varies in our areas: Philadelphia has the highest homeownership percentage (70 percent), while New York has the lowest (49 percent). But New York residents spend less on transportation, 12 percent, compared to Houston residents, who spend 18 percent.

Want more metro area data?

You might not know about our Economic Summaries, which gather data from many programs. We have information for hundreds of metro areas in all 50 states, plus a couple of territories. We also have geographic definitions for each subject. We update the summaries each month to keep them fresh.

You can use these Economic Summaries to see how your area is doing. If you have questions about this information, feel free to contact one of our BLS Regional Information Offices. We provide these gold-standard data to help you make smart decisions, such as, do you want to stay in your metro area? Or does another catch your eye?!

*A note to our readers that the above data are not seasonally adjusted and some may be subject to revision. Area definitions may differ by subject. For more area summaries and geographic definitions, please see our Economic Summaries.

100 years after World War I: What’s the Labor Market Status of Our Veterans in 2018?

As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I — at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 — we also want to honor our current veterans.

In honor of Veterans Day, here are our most up-to-date statistics about veterans:

  • In October 2018, 19.1 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about 8 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over.
  • After reaching 9.9 percent in January 2011, the unemployment rate for veterans was 2.9 percent in October 2018. The peak unemployment rate for nonveterans was 10.4 percent in January 2010; their rate was 3.5 percent in October 2018.
  • The unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans—those who served on active duty at any time since September 2001—reached 15.2 percent in January 2011. In October 2018, the unemployment rate for these veterans was 3.1 percent.
  • There were 269,000 unemployed veterans in the United States in October 2018. Eighteen percent of them were ages 18 to 34, 39 percent were ages 35 to 54, and 43 percent were 55 years and over.
  • In the third quarter of 2018, more veterans worked in government than any other industry; 21 percent of all employed veterans worked in federal, state, or local government. By comparison, 13 percent of employed nonveterans worked in government.
  • After government, veterans were most likely to work in manufacturing and in professional and businesses services (about 11 percent each).

Looking for more information on veterans? Check out our page devoted to veterans.

Now, let’s take a look at some data that may help veterans who are looking for work or considering a career change.

Thinking of moving?

In 2017, the unemployment rate for veterans varied across the country, ranging from 1.7 percent in Maine and Vermont to 7.3 percent in Rhode Island.

Map showing unemployment rates for veterans by state, 2017 annual averages

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

Considering different industries?

There were 7.0 million job openings in September 2018. Here’s how they break down by industry.

Chart showing job openings by industry in September 2018

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

Wondering about different jobs?

Thank you, veterans, for your service. As with our armed forces of the past, your service is the foundation of this great nation.

Want more information? Check out our website at www.bls.gov 24/7 or give our information office a call at (202) 691-5200. We also have regional information offices available to help you. BLS has the data YOU need to make wise decisions.

Unemployment rates for veterans by state, 2017 annual averages
State Unemployment rate
Total, 18 years and older 3.7%
Alabama 2.2
Alaska 5.3
Arizona 5.2
Arkansas 4.4
California 4.2
Colorado 3.7
Connecticut 3.4
Delaware 4.0
District of Columbia 6.3
Florida 2.9
Georgia 3.4
Hawaii 3.5
Idaho 3.4
Illinois 4.1
Indiana 2.4
Iowa 5.0
Kansas 2.5
Kentucky 2.0
Louisiana 3.0
Maine 1.7
Maryland 3.3
Massachusetts 2.4
Michigan 3.6
Minnesota 5.1
Mississippi 3.5
Missouri 3.1
Montana 4.4
Nebraska 4.5
Nevada 4.9
New Hampshire 3.3
New Jersey 4.0
New Mexico 3.3
New York 3.9
North Carolina 4.7
North Dakota 2.1
Ohio 3.5
Oklahoma 3.5
Oregon 4.3
Pennsylvania 5.0
Rhode Island 7.3
South Carolina 3.9
South Dakota 2.5
Tennessee 3.5
Texas 3.8
Utah 2.9
Vermont 1.7
Virginia 2.5
Washington 3.2
West Virginia 5.1
Wisconsin 3.3
Wyoming 4.6
Note: Veterans are men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were not on active duty at the time of the survey.
Job openings by industry in September 2018
Industry Job openings
Professional and business services 1,256,000
Health care and social assistance 1,223,000
Accommodation and food services 961,000
Retail trade 756,000
Manufacturing 484,000
State and local government, excluding education 317,000
Transportation, warehousing, and utilities 300,000
Construction 278,000
Finance and insurance 272,000
Other services 243,000
Wholesale trade 237,000
State and local government education 205,000
Information 117,000
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 87,000
Real estate and rental and leasing 84,000
Federal government 79,000
Educational services 76,000
Mining and logging 32,000