Tag Archives: Interviews

People with a Disability in the Labor Market

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. BLS has been collecting data on the employment status of people with a disability for nearly a decade. Let’s talk about how we gather the data and then look at some long-term trends.

Why does BLS gather information about people with a disability?

BLS added six questions to the Current Population Survey in June 2008 to begin gathering timely information on the employment and unemployment status of people with a disability. Policymakers and others use these data to see how this population fares in the job market.

How does BLS collect these data?

The survey asks about physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. It is difficult to accurately identify all people with a disability using only a few questions. Research conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and others resulted in six questions that identify this population.

The questions used to find out whether anyone in a household has a disability are:

  1. Is anyone deaf or does anyone have serious difficulty hearing?
  2. Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?
  3. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
  4. Does anyone have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
  5. Does anyone have difficulty dressing or bathing?
  6. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?

People who respond “yes” to any of these questions are classified as having a disability.

How likely are people with a disability to be employed?

  • The employment-population ratio is the percentage of the population who are working.
  • People with no disabilities are more than 3 times as likely to be employed as those with a disability (65.3 percent in 2016, compared with 17.9 percent). This disparity has held throughout the time these data have been available.
  • People with a disability tend to be older, and older people are less likely to be employed. However, people with a disability are less likely to be employed regardless of their age.
  • About 1 in 30 employed people in the U.S. have a disability.

What is the unemployment rate for people with a disability?

  • Someone is unemployed if they do not have a job but are available to work and looked for a job in the previous 4 weeks.
  • The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people divided by the labor force, which is the sum of employed and unemployed people.
  • The unemployment rate for people with a disability has been about twice that of people with no disabilities in recent years. In 2016, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 10.5 percent, and the rate for those without a disability was 4.6 percent.

 Chart showing the unemployment rates of people with and without a disability from 2009 to 2016.

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

What about people who are neither working nor looking for work?

  • People who are neither working nor looking for work are not in the labor force.
  • In 2016, a larger proportion of people with a disability—8 in 10—were not in the labor force than those with no disability, at about 3 in 10.
  • Many people with a disability are age 65 and older. In general, older people are less likely to participate in the labor force than younger people.
  • Most people with and without a disability who are not in the labor force do not want a job, perhaps because they are retired, have family responsibilities, or are in school.

We honor the contributions and innovations that people with a disability make to our workforce and to our nation. We look forward to providing information about people with a disability for years to come.

Want to learn more? Check out our webpage with more data about people with a disability. We also have answers to frequently asked questions.

Unemployment rates for people with and without a disability
Characteristic 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
With a disability 14.5% 14.8% 15.0% 13.4% 13.2% 12.5% 10.7% 10.5%
Without a disability 9.0 9.4 8.7 7.9 7.1 5.9 5.1 4.6

Trying to Understand an Unusual Employment Report

This column is called the Commissioner’s Corner, but I’m just keeping the seat warm until a new Commissioner is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. More often than not I feel like I’m back in school, having to learn new concepts from scratch. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated BLS employees who go out of their way to make sure things are done correctly and are very patient in helping me to learn new things. That certainly was the case with the September 2017 Employment Situation report, released on October 6.

The turnaround time from data collection to processing to publication of most BLS data series is very short. That’s the case with the monthly employment and unemployment information. I first saw the payroll employment information about 48 hours before we would release it, and my reaction isn’t suitable for a G-rated blog. What happened? The employment information looked so much different from the recent trend. Fortunately, some more information from that dedicated staff helped me to understand what was going on.

If you haven’t heard, it’s hurricane season. And several storms affected the United States in August and September. Evacuations, damaged businesses, and damaged homes have a lot of implications, including for the job market. Let me give you my description of what the data reveal, using (I hope) some nontechnical terms.

The monthly Employment Situation release contains information from two separate surveys—a survey of businesses (called the Current Employment Statistics program) and a survey of households (called the Current Population Survey). We get different information from each survey, but over time they typically tell a consistent story. For example, during the 2007–09 recession, the business survey showed a decline in jobs, while the household survey showed an increase in unemployment. A consistent story.

So what happened in September 2017?

The business survey asks how many workers were paid for any time during the payroll period that includes the 12th of September. An important fact to understand is that people who did not receive pay for the payroll period are not counted as employed. In September, the business survey showed that the number of jobs in “food service and drinking places” (let’s call them restaurants) declined by 105,000 from the previous month. That’s very different from the trend, which has shown consistent job gains. Workers in these jobs are typically paid on an hourly basis and don’t get paid if they don’t work. This large decline in restaurant jobs in turn affected the overall number of jobs, which declined by 33,000.

Chart showing over-the-month change in food services and drinking places employment

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

In contrast, the household survey showed an increase in people who were employed and a decrease in the unemployment rate. Once again, it is important to understand definitions. In this survey, people are counted as employed if they had a job but did not work due to bad weather, whether or not they were paid. So those same restaurant workers who were not paid and therefore not counted in the business survey were counted as employed in the household survey.

And the household survey tells us more. In something we call the “bad weather” series, 1.5 million employed Americans were not at work due to bad weather during the week that included September 12. This is the highest number for that series in over 20 years. In contrast, in September 2016 there were only 24,000 people in this category. The number of “bad weather” workers was unusually high because Hurricane Irma happened to fall during the week that included September 12—the reference period for the survey. The figure was much lower for many other major weather events, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, because those events fell outside the reference period for the survey.

Chart showing the number of people each month with a job in nonagricultural industries but were not at work because of bad weather.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available at https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNU02036012

So what I thought would be a major story turned out to be easily explained by weather events and differing definitions. And it taught me something new about the wide variety of information available from BLS.

One last note. The national information included in the monthly Employment Situation news release does not include data for the U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Data for some territories are included with the State Employment and Unemployment news release, which typically is available a couple weeks after the national data. Want to know about how recent hurricanes have affected BLS data? See our page about Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Over-the-month change in food services and drinking places employment
Month Change
Jan 2014 22,700
Feb 2014 6,500
Mar 2014 61,000
Apr 2014 36,600
May 2014 39,600
Jun 2014 25,000
Jul 2014 13,500
Aug 2014 23,300
Sep 2014 31,400
Oct 2014 24,700
Nov 2014 26,300
Dec 2014 36,400
Jan 2015 17,600
Feb 2015 46,200
Mar 2015 11,600
Apr 2015 37,100
May 2015 33,900
Jun 2015 46,500
Jul 2015 39,700
Aug 2015 26,400
Sep 2015 36,200
Oct 2015 52,900
Nov 2015 30,800
Dec 2015 38,000
Jan 2016 30,000
Feb 2016 28,100
Mar 2016 32,700
Apr 2016 16,900
May 2016 24,600
Jun 2016 21,900
Jul 2016 19,100
Aug 2016 32,300
Sep 2016 20,800
Oct 2016 11,500
Nov 2016 23,700
Dec 2016 14,700
Jan 2017 18,000
Feb 2017 20,600
Mar 2017 27,900
Apr 2017 26,100
May 2017 37,200
Jun 2017 20,500
Jul 2017 52,000
Aug 2017(p) 8,600
Sep 2017(p) -104,700
Footnotes:

(p) = preliminary

A History and Culture of Efficiency at BLS

We’re always looking for ways to improve our programs and surveys at BLS to provide what I call “gold standard” data. Good data help the American public make better decisions.

BLS has a strong history and culture of looking for ways to provide our data in the most timely, accurate, relevant, and cost-effective manner. I’m incredibly proud of what BLS has achieved through innovation and resourcefulness. Our focus on improving our programs and methods means we can produce better data and provide better service for you.

I am excited the President’s 2016 budget request contains several items to help us meet the needs of our data users. One innovative proposal is to improve the timeliness and detail of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The new funding would allow us to release each month’s data much sooner, when we publish The Employment Situation. Data users then would be able to analyze net changes in jobs each month alongside information about job openings, hires, and separations for the same month. Having more information more quickly can give policymakers, employers, and workers an earlier warning about downturns or signal an improving economy.

The President’s 2016 budget also proposes funding to measure poverty more accurately. Other agencies use these measures to improve conditions for the poor. BLS would improve the Consumer Expenditure Survey to get more information about school breakfasts and lunches and programs that help pay for home heating and other household expenses. The improved data will help the U.S. Census Bureau develop alternative poverty measures.

At BLS, we work hard every day to improve efficiency. I want to highlight a few notable efficiencies we have made over the past few years.

  • In 2012 we began closing 36 Consumer Price Index data collection offices, allowing those data collectors to work from their homes using smart phones and tablets.
  • This year, we began applying a design change to the Consumer Expenditure Survey that will reduce the number of respondent interviews from five to four; we will use the savings from that change to support a small-scale redesign of the survey.
  • We have reduced mailing costs by redesigning survey mailings and increasing the use of our Internet Data Collection Facility.

Of course, saving money by improving efficiency cannot fund all the work we do, but it can make a big difference.

In sum, we are constantly working to improve the way we do business. We strive to make our work as efficient, relevant, timely, and cost-effective as possible, to deliver “gold standard” data to our customers.

Why your survey answers are important

This week we have a guest blogger, Tom Nardone, who was the BLS Associate Commissioner for Employment and Unemployment Statistics. Tom retired from BLS recently after a long and distinguished career of public service. Tom writes about how individuals and businesses benefit from participating in the surveys of BLS and the other statistical agencies.

Why should I spend my time filling out a survey to benefit the people on Wall Street and the Federal Reserve? That question came from a business owner who was asked to participate in a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. It’s a fair question that any government statistical agency needs to answer to do its job well. Most of the surveys that statistical agencies conduct are voluntary. While agencies try to make participation as easy as possible, providing answers invariably requires some time and effort. So why should individuals and businesses participate?

The answer starts to emerge if we rephrase the question asked by the business owner. Who benefits from the information collected in the survey? The business owner thought that it was only the financial markets and their government regulators. Others might believe that it is elected officials or perhaps those seeking elected office. Such conclusions are understandable given the great focus on how markets will react and how elections might be affected when survey results are released. However, the fundamental reason the surveys are conducted and the results are published is to provide the public—individuals, businesses, and policymakers—with information needed to make better decisions.

In some cases, the need is very direct. Business owners might want to know the average wages paid in certain occupations or how prices are changing for the materials and services they use. Job seekers might want to know what states or areas have high job growth or low unemployment rates. But what if none of these examples apply? Is there still a case to be made that there are benefits to the surveys?

Returning to the question posed by the business owner, it is certainly true that the Federal Reserve, other government agencies, and private companies use government statistics to set interest rates and make a variety of other decisions that affect the daily lives of nearly every individual and business. Doesn’t everyone benefit, at least indirectly, if those decisions are based on the most complete and accurate information possible?

What if you disagree with the current public policies and don’t want to support them? Would it make sense to withhold information? A similar situation might be if you did not like your doctor or the treatment she or he prescribes. Perhaps you are even considering changing doctors. But who benefits and who might be hurt by withholding information about your condition—you or the doctor? The answer would clearly seem to be that you the patient benefit from having the most accurate assessment of your condition, and you potentially may be seriously hurt by incomplete or inaccurate information.

Government statistics and the agencies that gather them are not perfect. However, their underlying mission is to provide a public good—objective, accurate, and relevant information that helps individuals and businesses make better decisions. To accomplish this mission, the statistical agencies depend on the cooperation of the public. Without your participation, these surveys would not accurately reflect the economic and social conditions of our country.

Interview with Federal News Radio

I was interviewed this week on Federal News Radio by Tom Temin. Tom and I discussed the mission of BLS and the other federal statistical agencies. We talked about the challenges the agencies face in providing useful, relevant information as technology, our economy and society, and the needs of our customers change rapidly. We also talked about efforts by BLS and the other statistical agencies to increase public understanding of the power and impact of statistics and to encourage more young people to choose statistics as a profession. I invite you to listen to the interview, which is available on the Federal Drive Show blog.