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Tag Archives: Producer Price Index

Reflecting on Our Recent Price Data User Conference

I have repeatedly seen during my time as Commissioner of Labor Statistics how driven and conscientious BLS employees are. This is especially true of how they relate to our customers.

At the core of our agency’s mission is a responsibility to our customers. BLS strives to meet the needs of a diverse set of customers for accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible information. At the same time, we need to keep pace with a rapidly changing economy. Our data must reflect world events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do we meet this responsibility to our customers and keep them informed? How do we stay informed about what our customers face and what they need? For years, BLS Regional Offices have sponsored data user conferences to address these questions. These conferences have always been successful forums with broad representation from our data users.

I have participated in many such conferences virtually and in person. I recently had the pleasure of a different kind of virtual BLS data user conference, the price index users conference.

How did it come about? The staff of our Office of Prices and Living Conditions saw the success of our regional events and wanted to interact directly with our customers. What better way to communicate with price index users and get their feedback!

Especially now, with so much attention focused on inflation, customers want to know the pandemic’s effects on not only our survey results, but also on our survey methods, participation, and data quality.

This conference featured presentations by program experts from the Consumer Price Index, Producer Price Index, and U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes. There was plenty of technical detail that researchers, financial journalists, finance professionals, and other participants welcomed. The conference covered alternative data collection methods, medical care, quality adjustment, the impact of COVID-19, and other topics.

Beyond the technical detail, this event featured a listening session. This session went beyond the usual questions and answers to provide a forum for a robust exchange between our sophisticated data users and our experts. Everyone was in the same “room” and could participate in this discussion about methods, customer needs, COVID-19 effects, and future plans.

We at BLS benefit from this type of open exchange, and we thank all who attended for enhancing the 2-day event. We also owe a big thank you to all of our respondents for their survey participation throughout a very challenging time. When you agree to share your company’s information with BLS, you help ensure that we can continue to provide quality data. Survey participants are our bedrock, the foundation for good information about our economy. We cannot succeed in our mission for the American people, let alone our customers, without your help.

We look forward to your participation at our next event!

BLS at the Olympics

When you find yourself in a 16-day marathon on the sofa shouting “U-S-A, U-S-A” at every swimmer, weightlifter, and beach volleyball player, you may not see the relationship to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But as you sprint through the pages of our website or add your likes to Twitter, you’ll begin to see how BLS has a stat for that.

Olympic symbol with five interlocking rings and BLS emblem

Uneven bars

As we head into the gymnastics venue, we notice one of the women’s apparatus reminds us of how we measure productivity. We use two factors to compute labor productivity—output and hours worked. Over the past decade, the “bars” for output and hours worked aren’t quite parallel, but they are definitely uneven; output grew a little faster than hours, leading to rising productivity.  The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in sharp drops in both output and hours, leaving productivity to maintain its steady climb. BLS productivity staff stick the landing by providing a series of quarterly charts to let you vault into all the details.

Labor productivity (output per hour), output, and hours worked indexes, nonfarm business, 2012 to 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in our interactive chart packages.

Decathlon

You may not have to run, jump, and throw, but the fastest growing occupations from our annual employment projections represent a diversity of skills. A decathlon has 10 events, but we have so much Olympic spirit we want to show you the 12 fastest growing occupations. Half of these jobs are in the healthcare field, while a couple involve alternative forms of energy. And, of course, BLS is pleased to see statisticians and data scientists and mathematical science occupations make the list. While the “World’s Greatest Athlete” is decided at the track and field venue, our Employment Projections staff goes the extra mile (1,500 meters, actually) to identify where the jobs will be in the future.

Fastest growing occupations, projected, 2019–29

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

Swimming 4×100 medley relay

At the natatorium, we are here to witness one of the premier events of the Olympic Games, the swimming 4×100 medley relay. Four price indexes will each take a lap to demonstrate how they work together to provide a complete inflation picture. In the leadoff position is the Import Price Index, which rose 11.2 percent from June 2020 to June 2021—with fuel prices being one of the largest drivers. After touching the wall first, imports made way for the Producer Price Index, which rose 7.3 percent for the year ending in June. Price increases for a variety of goods drove this gain. The third leg belonged to the Export Price Index, which rose 16.8 percent over the past year, the largest gain among the quartet. Agricultural products were among the largest contributors to the increase in export prices. In the anchor position was the Consumer Price Index, freestyling with a 5.4-percent increase over the year, leading BLS to the gold medal. Among the largest increases over the past year were consumer prices for gasoline and for used cars and trucks.

Percent change in BLS price indexes, June 2020 to June 2021

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

Greco-Roman wrestling

We bypassed the freestyle wrestling venue to watch Greco-Roman wrestling. The difference between freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling is that freestyle wrestlers can use their legs for both defensive and offensive moves, but Greco-Roman forbids any holds below the waist. Our Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses reports on the part of the body where workplace injuries occur, and, just like Greco-Roman, many of those occur above the waist.

Among workplace injuries that resulted in time away from work, nearly two out of three affected parts of the body above the waist, with the greatest number related to the upper extremities (shoulder, arm, hand, and wrist).

Number of workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, by part of body, 2019

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

Among the most prevalent injuries to the upper extremities were sprains, strains, punctures, cuts, and burns.

Beach volleyball

This popular sport takes place out on the sandy beaches, with two athletes on each side battling for the gold. Let’s look at some popular beach volleyball spots around the United States and pair them with the unemployment rates by state and metropolitan area. Florida serves up the lowest unemployment rate among the four states we have selected, at 5.7 percent (not seasonally adjusted) in June. Miami had an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent in June—the lowest among the metro areas chosen. Receiving the serve, Hawaii’s rate stood at a 7.9 percent. They bumped it to their teammate Illinois, which also had a rate of 7.9 percent. California reached a little higher, with a rate of 8.0 percent.

Unemployment rates in selected beach volleyball states and metropolitan areas, June 2021, not seasonally adjusted

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

BLS heads to Tokyo

Just as the United States exports its athletes to Japan for the Olympic Games, the two countries are regular trading partners. The BLS International Price Program provides a monthly look at inflation for U.S. imports and exports. Among the data available are price changes based on where the imports come from and where the exports go. And yes, this includes data for Japan. While we’ve seen increases in many inflation measures in recent months, the data show more modest increases in prices of U.S. imports from Japan. Not so for U.S. exports to Japan, which increased 15.8 percent from June 2020 to June 2021. No, this does not represent the price of exporting our athletes; it mostly relates to sharp increases in the price of agricultural exports.

Percent change in U.S. import and export prices, June 2020 to June 2021

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

Whether it’s weightlifting or dressage or the new sports climbing activities, BLS is cheering on the U.S. Olympians and Paralympians in Japan. At the same time, we’ll still be keeping to our data release schedule. Find out what’s available from BLS during August and September and be sure to follow BLS on Twitter.

Fastest growing occupations, projected, 2019–29
OccupationProjected percent change

Wind turbine service technicians

60.7%

Nurse practitioners

52.4

Solar photovoltaic installers

50.5

Occupational therapy assistants

34.6

Statisticians

34.6

Home health and personal care aides

33.7

Physical therapist assistants

32.6

Medical and health services managers

31.5

Physician assistants

31.3

Information security analysts

31.2

Data scientists and mathematical science occupations, all other

30.9

Derrick operators, oil and gas

30.5
Percent change in BLS price indexes, June 2020 to June 2021
Price indexPercent change

Import Price Index

11.2%

Producer Price Index

7.3

Export Price Index

16.8

Consumer Price Index

5.4
Number of workplace injuries and illnesses requiring days away from work, by part of body, 2019
Part of bodyNumber

Upper extremities (shoulder, arm, hand, wrist)

284,860

Lower extremities (knee, ankle, foot)

216,850

Trunk

187,130

Multiple body parts

82,650

Head

79,620

Body systems

15,150

Neck

11,600

All other body parts

10,360
Unemployment rates in selected beach volleyball states and metropolitan areas, June 2021, not seasonally adjusted
State or metropolitan areaRate

States

Florida

5.7%

Hawaii

7.9

Illinois

7.9

California

8.0

Metropolitan areas

Miami

6.2

Honolulu

7.1

Chicago

8.5

Los Angeles

9.5
Percent change in U.S. import and export prices, June 2020 to June 2021
Price indexAll countriesJapan

Import prices

11.2%1.8%

Export prices

16.815.8

A New Tool at BLS: Video Data Collection Interview

The pandemic that has gripped the world for over a year has resulted in many challenges for BLS, notably in collecting key economic data from employers and households. It has also brought about innovation, as we were forced to find new ways to do things. We’ve gotten rid of many paper forms; we’ve learned to “sign” documents electronically; and we’ve done our best to remember to unmute in video meetings. Data collection is now almost entirely paperless. It involves more email and web-based interactions, and the latest BLS innovation—the video data collection interview.

Pretend with me that you are peeking in on a recent video interview. BLS Philadelphia Region Field Economist Joseph Wright is the star of this video show. His mission today is to interview a representative from a business for the Producer Price Index (PPI). The PPI measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers for their output. To do that, Joe and his colleagues talk to domestic producers (businesses) to identify products and track selling prices.

Earlier, Joe contacted this business and got permission for video collection. As the scene opens, both Joe and the official at this company (we call these individuals “respondents”) are working from home. Joe has done video collection several times before, and that experience is evident. After he shows his credentials to verify he is legit, he shares his screen to point to information about BLS confidentiality protections and to highlight some PPI data.

View of the webpage on Confidentiality Pledge and Laws at https://www.bls.gov/bls/confidentiality.htm

Thinking about this process, it seems like sharing a few highlights on a screen is much easier than shuffling a bunch of papers while meeting with the respondent in person. Advantage—video.

Next, Joe starts the actual data collection process. He begins with some questions and examples designed to verify the firm’s industry classification. Then the conversation pivots to information about the products produced, where Joe and the respondent clarify things like new formulations, quantities in metric tons, and shipping lingo such as free-on-board. Fortunately, Joe and the respondent speak the same language. In fact, one of the hallmarks of BLS data collection is familiarity with detailed industries, occupations, work processes, and more. We are talking to experts, so it’s best to know our stuff. And Joe clearly does.

The goal of an initial PPI interview like this one is to select a sample of products sold by the business. We also want to get a detailed description of the products so we can follow the correct selling price. Finally, we want to set up the process for the business to easily report updated selling prices each month. From information provided by the respondent, Joe did some quick math and identified a random selection of products to follow, based on sales volume. He confirmed product descriptions, which will be provided back to the respondent when it’s time to update the selling prices. Clearly Joe is a pro, as he made quick work of the entire process.

This respondent’s data will eventually be part of the monthly PPI release, which provides considerable detail on changes in selling prices for a wide range of industries and products. Here’s a look at 12-month changes in the PPI over the past decade. More charts and more details are available on the BLS website.

Chart on Producer Price Index for final demand, 12-month percent changes

Data collection is a tough job. This particular respondent was comfortable with the video process and willing to provide information. It helps that the respondent said more than once that “we use these [BLS data] in our contracts” and that he was “glad to be part of this [since we] use a lot of these indexes.” While many respondents are indeed cooperative, and familiar with BLS data, others are not. Fortunately, BLS field economists are equipped with a marketing toolbox, which includes training in how to work with small and large companies; factsheets and related material that highlight how businesses can use BLS data, for example, in contract escalation; and details on BLS procedures to protect the confidentiality of respondent data. The video data collection interview is the latest tool.

BLS confidentiality procedures deserve extra emphasis. While our goal is to give respondents various data collection options, to make the process as convenient as possible, we never introduce a new collection option without a thorough confidentiality vetting. In the case of video collection, that vetting led to the development of strict standards and detailed procedures. These efforts are designed to ensure respondents of the value of their participation, and the care with which BLS handles their data. Enough said.

At BLS, we see the value in building relationships with respondents, and thus in-person data collection will continue to be part of our toolbox. But we also want to limit respondent burden and be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. As Joe’s example demonstrates, the video data collection interview is an effective option to limit burden and expense while obtaining quality information to support key economic indicators. Even in a post-pandemic world, BLS video data collection is here to stay.

Providing Context for Recent Increases in Gasoline Prices

If you’ve filled your car’s gas tank recently, you may have been surprised at how much more gas costs than it did just a few months ago or in early 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In recent months, gasoline prices have increased sharply and have pushed up overall consumer inflation. We documented the dramatic price declines for petroleum products that occurred in early 2020 in a recent Monthly Labor Review article. The article also documented the partial recovery in prices last summer.

Let’s now look at what has happened with oil and gas prices since we published that article. We’ll see that gasoline prices mostly just recovered from the steep declines experienced early in the pandemic.

The following chart shows the monthly percent change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for gasoline and for all items since October 2020.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes, October 2020 to March 2021

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

After smaller increases in October and November, the CPI gasoline index rose much more rapidly in December and the first 3 months of 2021. Overall, in the 4 months from November to March, gasoline prices increased about 31 percent. Over the same 4 months, the CPI for all items increased 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the increase in gasoline prices as measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) has been larger than the increase in consumer prices. In the last 4 months, the PPI gasoline index increased about 58 percent.

The following chart shows the change in the CPI and PPI gasoline indexes since January 2020.

Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

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

Gasoline prices fell sharply at the start of the pandemic and then partially rebounded through the summer of 2020. The prices that gasoline producers received declined much more at the start of the pandemic than did the prices consumers paid. Producer prices also were slower to recover than consumer prices. The recent increase in gasoline prices continued the recovery from the sharp declines at the start of the pandemic. Through February 2021, consumer prices for gasoline were still down 2.8 percent from January 2020. Producer prices for gasoline had fully recovered the pandemic-related declines by February 2021 and were back to January 2020 levels. In March 2021, consumer and producer prices for gasoline rose sharply and were above their January 2020 levels.

The differences between consumer and producer gasoline prices can be partly explained by larger margins for fuel retailers. Gasoline retailers are often slower to pass increases or decreases in their purchase costs on to consumers because they are uncertain about future costs and because of competition in the retail gasoline market. The PPI for “automotive fuels and lubricants retailing” measures the margin for gasoline retailers. The chart below shows that this margin increased sharply in March and April 2020 when oil prices dropped. The margin then decreased over the summer months as oil prices increased. In March 2021, retail gasoline margins were still 16.6 percent above January 2020 levels, in seasonally unadjusted terms.

Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing, January 2020 to March 2021

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

Gasoline prices tend to be volatile, and large moves, such as this winter’s, occur often. Consumer gasoline prices rose 24.7 percent in the first 3 months of 2021. Since 2001, the CPI gasoline index has had six increases that large or larger in 3 months. The most recent instance of a larger increase over 3 months was a 26.4-percent increase from May to August 2009.

Over the past 4 months, the sharp rise in gasoline prices has contributed to increasing overall prices as measured by the CPI for all items. In each of the last 4 months, half or more of the monthly increase in the all-items index was due to the increase in gasoline prices. This means that, if the price of gasoline had been unchanged in each of these months, the overall CPI would have increased by less than half of the 1.5-percent increase over this period.

One way to strip out the effects of gasoline prices on overall prices is to look at prices for all items less energy. The following chart shows the monthly change in the CPI for all item and the CPI for all items less energy.

Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

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

From July through December 2020, the indexes moved similarly each month. That means energy price changes were close to the price changes of other items. The two indexes have diverged in the last 3 months, however, with the index for all items less energy increasing much less than the index for all items.

Crude oil prices have a large effect on gasoline prices. The following chart shows the changes in the PPI for crude petroleum and in the Import Price Index for crude petroleum since January 2020. The PPI measures price changes for domestic producers of crude oil, while the Import Price Index tracks price changes for oil purchased from foreign producers.

Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum, January 2020 to March 2021

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

Overall, producer prices and import prices for crude oil track closely together. Both declined sharply as the COVID-19 pandemic began and partly recovered through the early fall. From November 2020 to March 2021, both had large increases—60.3 percent for the PPI and 46.5 percent for import prices—and now exceed their January 2020 levels.

Market analysis by the Energy Information Administration identifies several contributors to recent oil and gas price increases. One is optimism over the economic recovery from the pandemic and expectations of increased energy demand as more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Another is the continued cooperation among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries to limit crude oil production. Finally, in February, weather-related supply disruptions also contributed to price increases.

Although gasoline prices have increased sharply in recent months and have contributed to increases in overall consumer prices, gasoline prices are only just recovering January 2020 levels. Gasoline makes up only about 3 percent of the market basket for the CPI, and its share has been declining. Gasoline still is an important driver of changes in the overall index because of frequent large fluctuations in gas prices. Price changes in gasoline and crude oil can also affect the prices of other items because gas and oil are important for producing many goods and services.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes
MonthGasoline, all typesAll items

Oct 2020

0.70.1

Nov 2020

0.50.2

Dec 2020

5.20.2

Jan 2021

7.40.3

Feb 2021

6.40.4

Mar 2021

9.10.6
Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted
MonthCPI for gasolinePPI for gasoline

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

95.76697.003

Mar 2020

86.60471.609

Apr 2020

69.95532.440

May 2020

66.51844.322

Jun 2020

73.41061.409

Jul 2020

76.92866.193

Aug 2020

78.57667.192

Sep 2020

79.89167.613

Oct 2020

80.48268.559

Nov 2020

80.86669.085

Dec 2020

85.06678.181

Jan 2021

91.36488.801

Feb 2021

97.221100.421

Mar 2021

106.070109.253
Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing
MonthIndex

Jan 2020

100.000

Feb 2020

102.652

Mar 2020

127.281

Apr 2020

169.753

May 2020

154.292

Jun 2020

135.506

Jul 2020

128.449

Aug 2020

124.180

Sep 2020

127.506

Oct 2020

129.438

Nov 2020

127.416

Dec 2020

118.292

Jan 2021

121.798

Feb 2021

118.292

Mar 2021

116.629
Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted
MonthAll itemsAll items less energy

Jan 2020

0.20.2

Feb 2020

0.10.2

Mar 2020

-0.30.0

Apr 2020

-0.7-0.1

May 2020

-0.10.0

Jun 2020

0.50.3

Jul 2020

0.50.4

Aug 2020

0.40.3

Sep 2020

0.20.2

Oct 2020

0.10.1

Nov 2020

0.20.1

Dec 2020

0.20.1

Jan 2021

0.30.0

Feb 2021

0.40.1

Mar 2021

0.60.3
Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum
MonthProducer Price Index for crude petroleumImport Price Index for crude petroleum

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

85.69689.067

Mar 2020

56.58558.776

Apr 2020

28.98637.212

May 2020

39.38244.333

Jun 2020

59.42058.977

Jul 2020

63.01271.615

Aug 2020

65.78473.621

Sep 2020

63.70569.509

Oct 2020

64.77669.408

Nov 2020

67.29772.116

Dec 2020

79.89979.840

Jan 2021

89.47787.563

Feb 2021

97.16498.897

Mar 2021

107.876105.617

Ensuring Security and Fairness in the Release of Economic Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is the gold standard of accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible statistical data, and I am committed to keeping it that way. As Commissioner, it is my obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our data and to make sure everyone has equitable access to these data.

One step toward equitable access and data security is coming soon; on March 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will eliminate all electronics from the lock-up facility where we allow members of the media to review economic releases and prepare news stories before the official release of the data. We are changing the procedures to better protect our statistical information from premature disclosure and to ensure fairness in providing our information to the public.

For many years the news media have helped BLS and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) inform the public about our data. Since the mid-1980s, BLS and ETA have provided prerelease data access to news organizations under strict embargoes, known as “lock-ups.” We have provided this early access consistent with federal Statistical Policy Directives of the Office of Management and Budget. BLS uses the lock-up for several major releases each month, including the Employment Situation and Consumer Price Index. ETA uses the lock-up for the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims data. These economic data have significant commercial value and may affect the movement of commodity and financial markets upon release.

Because of technological advancements, the current lock-up procedure creates an unfair competitive advantage for lock-up participants who provide BLS data to trading companies. Today, the internet permits anyone in the world to obtain economic releases for themselves directly from the BLS or DOL websites. However, unlike media organizations with computer access in the current lock-up, others who use the data do not have up to 30 minutes before the official release to process the data. Their postings about the data may lag behind those released directly from the lock-up at official publication time, 8:30 a.m. Eastern. High-speed algorithmic trading technology now gives a notable competitive advantage to market participants who have even a few microseconds head start. To eliminate this advantage and further protect our data from inadvertent or purposeful prerelease, no computers or any other electronic devices will be allowed in the lock-up.

In recent years, BLS and ETA have devoted significant resources to introducing improved technologies that strengthen our infrastructure and ensure data are posted to the BLS or DOL websites immediately following the official release time.

We at BLS and ETA are committed to the principle of a level playing field—our data must be made available to all users at the same time. We are equally committed to protecting our data. We are now positioned to continue helping the media produce accurate stories about the data, while also ensuring that all parties, including the media, businesses, and the general public, will have equitable and timely access to our most sensitive data.

You can find more details about these changes in our notice to lock-up participants. We also have a set of questions and answers about the changes to the lock-up procedures.