Tag Archives: New tools

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

Celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table

The United Nations (U.N.) proclaims 2019 the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. As Jean-Paul Ngome-Abiaga, coordinator for the celebration of the Year at the U.N., says:

“The periodic table of chemical elements is one of the most important and influential achievements in modern science reflecting the essence not only of chemistry, but also of physics, biology and other disciplines.”

To join in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the table’s creation by Dmitry Mendeleev, BLS has created our own periodic table! Since we agree with the U.N. coordinator, our table goes beyond chemistry and includes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) occupations. Don’t worry, our table includes chemists, too. Workers in STEM occupations use science and mathematics to understand how the world works and to solve problems. We thank the Nebraska Department of Labor for the original idea for this table.

The Standard Occupational Classification System Policy Committee has identified several hundred STEM occupations. Here are some interesting BLS facts about STEM occupations:

  • There were nearly 8.9 million STEM jobs in May 2017, representing 6.2 percent of U.S. employment.
  • Employment in STEM occupations grew by 14.5 percent, or 1.1 million jobs, between May 2009 and May 2017, compared with 8.8 percent net growth in non-STEM occupations.
  • Employment in STEM occupations is projected to increase by 10.9 percent from 2016 to 2026, and this growth is expected to result in 1.0 million new jobs.

Our BLS Periodic Table of STEM occupations highlights a couple dozen jobs.

Periodic Table of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics occupations

Want more STEM information?

Check out these STEM products from BLS:

Contact our projections information folks by phone, (202) 691-5700, or email.

Whatever your occupational information needs — whether STEM or non-STEM — we have a stat (or several) for that!

New Measures of Prices for Global Trade

Shipping containers sitting on a dock at a port.How do prices for U.S. manufacturing exports compare to prices for goods manufactured abroad? How has the balance of export and import prices between the United States and Mexico changed over time? BLS has new measures to answer these and other questions on the competitiveness of U.S. production. We have published data on import and export price indexes since 1973. Since then we have made many improvements to the data we provide. Our latest improvements are the locality of destination export price indexes and the U.S. terms of trade indexes.

What are the locality of destination indexes?

Each locality of destination index measures price changes in dollars for U.S. goods exported to another country, region, or group of countries. These include major U.S. trade partners like China and the European Union. The indexes are available for all goods and for manufacturing and nonmanufacturing goods industries for some localities. The locality of destination indexes are a counterpart to the locality of origin import price indexes, which we have published since 1990. The locality of origin indexes let us examine price trends for goods imported from other countries, regions, and groups of countries.

What do the locality of destination indexes tell us?

The locality of destination indexes show how export price movements can vary depending on where U.S. goods are sold. For instance, from August to September 2018, prices for manufacturing exports to Latin America increased 0.3 percent. During the same period, manufacturing export prices to the European Union did not change. Comparing the two price movements, we can conclude market prices for U.S. exports arriving in Latin America increased relative to exports bound for Europe. Identifying these trends allows data users to dig deeper to see how currency exchange rates or shifts in global supply and demand affect price movements across trade partners.

What are the terms of trade indexes?

Each terms of trade index measures the purchasing power of U.S. exports, in terms of imports, for a specific country, region, or group of countries. In other words, the terms of trade index for China provides information on the price for exports to China, and how those export prices compare to prices for imports coming from China. Prices for exports and imports are measured in U.S. dollars, so exchange rates are already taken into account. We calculate the terms of trade index for China by dividing the China export index by the China import index, then multiplying by 100. An increase in the China terms of trade index means prices for exports to China are rising faster than prices for imports from China.

What does a terms of trade index price change mean?

A change in a terms of trade index provides information on the competitiveness of U.S. goods in the global market. Take the previous example, an increase in the China terms of trade index. U.S. producers are receiving higher prices for exported goods, meaning U.S. companies can now afford to purchase more imports. The U.S. terms of trade—or competitiveness—with China have improved. When looking at the trends, remember that the types of goods U.S. businesses export to and import from China are different, and underlying price changes may have different causes.

How broad is the coverage of the terms of trade indexes?

We have terms of trade indexes for each country, region, or group of countries where we publish both a locality of destination export index and a locality of origin import index. These countries include major trading partners:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Germany
  • China
  • Japan

They also include regions or groups of countries:

  • Industrialized Countries (Western Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa)
  • European Union
  • Latin America (Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean)
  • Pacific Rim (China, Japan, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Macao, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and the Asian Newly Industrialized Countries)

We publish the terms of trade indexes and the locality of destination indexes monthly. Data are available beginning with December 2017.

Why did we develop these new indexes?

The locality of destination and terms of trade indexes come from an ongoing effort to better measure the competitiveness of U.S. goods. We began expanding our measures of competitiveness in 2010 by extending the locality of origin import indexes to more detailed industries. Next we began work on the locality of destination and terms of trade indexes, eventually introducing them in September 2018.

Want to learn more?

Making It Easier to Find Data on Pay and Benefits

We love data at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We have lots of data about the labor market and economy, but we sometimes wish we had more. For example, we believe workers, businesses, and public policymakers would benefit if we had up-to-date information on employer-provided training. I recently wrote about the challenges of collecting good data on electronically mediated work, or what many people call “gig” work. I know many of you could make your own list of data you wish BLS had. One topic for which we have no shortage of data is pay and benefits. In fact, we have a dozen surveys or programs that provide information on compensation. We have so much data on compensation that it can be hard to decide which source is best for a particular purpose.

Where can you get pay data on the age, sex, or race of workers? Where should you go if you want pay data for teachers, nurses, accountants, or other occupations? What about if you want occupational pay data for a specific metro area? Or if you want occupational pay data for women and men separately? What if you want information on workers who receive medical insurance from their employers? Where can you find information on employers’ costs for employee benefits? Here’s a short video to get you started.

But wait, there’s more! To make it easier to figure out which source is right for your needs, we now have an interactive guide to all BLS data on pay, benefits, wages, earnings, and all the other terms we use to describe compensation. Let me explain what I mean by “interactive.” The guide lists 12 sources of compensation data and 32 key details about those data sources. 12 x 32 = a LOT of information! Having so much information in one place can feel overwhelming, so we created some features to let you choose what you want to see.

For example, the guide limits the display to three data sources at a time, rather than all 12. You can choose which sources you want to learn about from the menus at the top of the guide.Snippet of interactive guide on BLS compensation data.

If you want to learn about one of the 32 key details across all 12 data sources, just press or click that characteristic in the left column. For example, if you choose “Measures available by occupation?” a new window will open on your screen to describe the pay data available from each source on workers’ occupations.

There are links near the bottom of the guide to help you find where to go if you want even more information about each data source.

Check out our overview of statistics on pay and benefits. The first paragraph on that page has a link to the interactive guide. We often like to say, “We’ve got a stat for that!” When it comes to pay and benefits, we have lots of stats for that. Let us know how you like this new interactive guide.

New BLS Local Data App Now Available

BLS has partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to develop a new mobile app for iPhones that is now available for free in the App Store! Search “BLS Local Data.”

The BLS Local Data app is ideal for customers who want to know more about local labor markets, such as jobseekers and economic and workforce development professionals. 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.

Using the BLS API, the app quickly presents local data and national comparisons for unemployment rates, employment, and wages.

In the coming months, look for more features and data in the app. We’re already working on future releases that will include industry and occupation drilldowns and comparisons between local areas.

Check out the app and explore the wealth of local labor market data produced by BLS! And don’t worry, Android users! An Android version of the app will be available in the future.

iPhone screen image for BLS Local Data app