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Tag Archives: Longitudinal

Catching up on Recent BLS Activities

At BLS, we highly value feedback that can help us improve our economic statistics. Three groups regularly advise us on serving the needs of data users: the BLS Data Users Advisory Committee, the BLS Technical Advisory Committee, and the Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee.

I cannot overstate the value of these committees. They have given us truly wonderful ideas. If you want to join these meetings, they are open to the public. You can learn more about future meetings directly from the committee links provided above. I welcome and encourage you to attend.

As the Commissioner of BLS, my role at these meetings is to give an overview of all the new and exciting things happening at BLS. I want to share these updates directly with you, too.

Budgets for Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023

Let’s start with the budgets for fiscal years (FY) 2022 and 2023. For full information on the FY 2022 budget, please see the Department of Labor FY 2022 budget page, which has information on the budget for BLS and other agencies within the Department. You also can see the FY 2023 proposed budget, released on March 28, 2022.

In addition to funding our existing programs, the President’s FY 2023 proposed budget requests additional funds for several BLS initiatives.

We are requesting $14.5 million to continue developing a new National Longitudinal Survey of Youth cohort. We are developing plans for a new cohort called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 2026 (NLSY26). The NLSY26 will build upon our experience and analysis of two ongoing earlier cohorts:

  • NLSY79: A sample of 12,686 people who were born in the years 1957–64. The survey began in 1979, when sample members were ages 14–22. BLS has followed this cohort of late baby boomers for more than 40 years, recording their lives from their teens into their 50s and early 60s.
  • NLSY97: A sample of 8,984 people who were born in the years 1980–84. The survey began in 1997, when sample members were ages 12–17. BLS has followed this cohort for more than 20 years, and sample members are now in their mid-30s to early 40s.

As in previous National Longitudinal Surveys cohorts, BLS plans to ask NLSY26 cohort members a core set of questions on employment, training, education, income, assets, marital status, fertility, health, and occupational and geographic mobility. We also plan to administer cognitive and noncognitive assessments. We are considering other topics as we consult with stakeholders and subject matter experts in a range of fields.

The FY 2023 budget request for BLS also includes the following:

Expanding Our Data

Moving beyond the budget, one topic that’s getting a lot of attention lately is inflation. We’ve been measuring and reporting on inflation at BLS for over a century, and we are always looking for ways to improve our measurement. The National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics, recently completed a study that focuses on ways to improve the Consumer Price Index. The report provided 37 consensus recommendations on how BLS can adapt to the rapidly changing digital landscape to improve CPI methods. BLS staff are now reviewing the report and developing an action plan based on the committee’s recommendations. You can read my blog about the report and the full report itself.

BLS recently began publishing monthly and quarterly labor force measures for the American Indian and Alaska Native population on February 4, 2022. We have these data back to 2000. Previously, we published data for American Indians and Alaska Natives only annually. You can learn more about the new data in one of my February blog posts.

We now are evaluating whether we can begin publishing monthly and quarterly labor force data for the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population and for detailed Asian groups. The populations of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and detailed Asian groups are relatively small, so we need to evaluate whether the Current Population Survey sample size is large enough to produce reliable monthly estimates for these groups. We currently publish annual data for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and detailed Asian groups in our report on Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity.

Updates for Other Programs

I mentioned the National Longitudinal Surveys already, but the program is also doing other great work! In November 2021 we released data for the NLSY97 COVID-19 Supplement. We collected these data from February to May 2021. The survey asked questions about how the pandemic affected employment, health, and childcare. See our brief analysis of some of the COVID-19 data.

We’re also exploring how to measure the value of household production. BLS contracted with a vendor to consider how to use data from the American Time Use Survey on home production and impute the data to consumer units in the Consumer Expenditure Surveys. We expect to receive the recommendations by the end of the fiscal year.

Also in our Consumer Expenditure Surveys, we conducted an online survey test from November 2021 through January 2022 that will help us analyze alternative methods of collecting data. Response rates for most surveys have been declining for years. The COVID-19 pandemic also has made in-person interviewing less feasible. We are currently analyzing the results of the test to learn how we might reverse the trend of declining response rates and be ready for future events that might disrupt data collection.

Finally, we revamped the BLS Productivity program’s web space in April 2022. Information on labor productivity and total factor productivity is now available in a single cohesive and intuitive space. The new web space eliminates redundant material, improves consistency, and includes new material to fill information gaps. It truly enhances the customer experience!

I hope you find these updates useful and that they improve your experience with BLS data. We are always looking for opportunities to improve your experience with our gold standard economic statistics. Be on the lookout for more updates and improvements as we continuously adapt to meet your needs!

Why This Counts: Tracking Labor Market Experience over a Lifetime

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is best known for our monthly job and inflation reports. We also publish data on many other topics, ranging from how Americans spend their time and money to workplace injuries and the growth of entrepreneurship. My blog series, “Why This Counts,” explains why we conduct our surveys and how people can use the data at work and home. I hope this series will take the mystery out of our data and make our work come to life for both new and advanced users.

Today I want to tell you about a fascinating group of surveys called the National Longitudinal Surveys. It’s especially timely to talk about these surveys for two reasons: 1) we published a news release this week with the latest data from one of the surveys, and 2) the program is one of the important legacies of former BLS Commissioner Janet Norwood, who passed away recently.

The National Longitudinal Surveys stand out because they are designed to answer key long-term questions about people’s paths through life. Most of our measures about the labor market and economy focus on current conditions. What’s the national unemployment rate? How rapidly is employment growing in California or North Dakota or Georgia? How many job openings are there in manufacturing? What are the trends in consumer prices for food, energy, clothing, and shelter? It’s important to have up-to-date answers for these and other economic questions. But some questions take longer to answer—years or even decades.

Some long-term questions we care about include: How many jobs do people hold over their lifetimes? How do earnings grow at different stages of workers’ careers? The surveys designed to answer these and other long-term questions are called “longitudinal” surveys. What’s that mean?

A longitudinal survey asks questions about the same people at different points in their lives. Longitudinal surveys are useful for studying changes that occur over long periods. These surveys are also useful for examining cause-and-effect relationships. For example, how do events that happened when a person was in high school affect labor market success as an adult? This week we published a new report that looks at the experiences of baby boomers from age 18 to age 48.

The survey follows a set of people born in the latter years of the post-World War II baby boom, 1957 to 1964, and living in the United States when the survey began in 1979. To answer my earlier questions—using just-released data—these baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs from age 18 to age 48. Their inflation-adjusted hourly earnings grew the most during their late teens and early twenties, and earnings generally grew faster for college graduates than for people with less education.

Real wage growth-final

The survey doesn’t just ask about labor market activity. It also asks about education, training, health, marriages and other relationships, children, use of government programs, juvenile crimes and arrests, drug and alcohol use, and much more. Why do we ask about these topics, some of which are pretty sensitive? In short, we’re trying to understand all the things that affect or are affected by labor market activity. That covers nearly every part of our lives.

Before this survey of baby boomers began in 1979, four other longitudinal surveys began in the 1960s of earlier generations. BLS began another survey in 1997 that represents people born in the years 1980 to 1984 and living in the United States at the start of the survey. We only still conduct the surveys of the two more recent generations, but we have learned so much from all the surveys. These surveys are some of the most analyzed in the social sciences. Researchers in economics, sociology, psychology, education, and health sciences have used the surveys to examine a broad range of topics. Here are just a few examples of what researchers have learned from the surveys:

  • Nobel Prize winner James Heckman and his colleagues found that noncognitive skills, such as motivation and perseverance, are as important to future labor market success as are skills such as reading and math.
  • People who obtain a GED or other exam-certified high school equivalent have labor market outcomes that are similar to those of high school dropouts, rather than to people who earn a regular high school diploma.
  • The labor market effects of a 4-year college degree are similar for those who start at a 4-year college and those who transfer from a 2-year college to a 4-year college.
  • Obesity is not only a health concern, but a labor market concern. Workers pay a price for obesity with lower wages and employment, and this price is higher for women than men.
  • Low birth weight is a better predictor than cognitive test scores of whether people either work or attend school at ages 24 to 27. Birth weight also is a better predictor of adult wages.

You can find information about thousands of other research studies in the National Longitudinal Surveys bibliography.

Although we learn a lot each time we update our monthly and quarterly data on employment, compensation, prices, and productivity, there is so much we could not learn without these longitudinal surveys.

This is all possible thanks to Janet Norwood—and to the people who have agreed to participate in the surveys for so long—so that we can understand people’s paths over time!