Tag Archives: Statistics awareness

Ice Cream versus Bacon

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Steve Henderson. When not relaxing with a bowl of ice cream, Steve is a supervisory economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He’s spent half of his government career working on the Consumer Price Index and half on the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

How much did you spend on ice cream last year? According to the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average U.S. household spent around $54. But why does BLS need to know that?

Let’s take a deep dive into that ice cream. That’s just one of thousands of data we collect to calculate the Consumer Price Index, a monthly assessment of price changes for goods and services in the United States. The CPI has separate inflation indexes for just about everything people purchase. For example, the CPI has an index for “Bacon and related products,” and lots of other itemized food categories, including “Ice cream and related products.”

(Curious about what else we measure? Here’s the CPI’s online table generator tool. You can drill down to the most detailed CPI categories in step 2. Note: You’ll need to enable Java to see the chart.)

Why so many indexes? The CPI needs to carefully track how the prices of food, and just about everything else, change because not every item’s price goes up or down at the same rate. For example, bacon has increased in price almost 32 percent over the past 10 years, while ice cream went up 21 percent over the same time period.

A graphic showing trends in ice cream prices and bacon prices from 2007 to 2017.

Looking at how prices have moved over the last year, bacon is slightly less expensive than it was in January 2016, while the price of ice cream has gone up slightly. This information is helpful for families looking to see where their food budget money went, as well as researchers investigating changing food prices and other indicators of inflation.

Most importantly, the CPI needs to know how much the average U.S. household spends on both of those two food items in order to measure the impact different inflation rates have on total inflation. If everybody spent the same number of dollars on ice cream as they do on bacon, then you could just use a simple average of the two inflation rates to get a total. Here is where BLS’s Consumer Expenditure Survey comes in. It measures, in great detail, all the different goods and services consumers purchase in a year, and passes these numbers to the CPI to form a “market basket” — that is, a list of everything people buy and what percentage of their total spending goes to each item.

The latest spending numbers showed that the average dollar amount per year that all U.S. households spent on ice cream was $54.04, while the average amount on bacon was $39.07. That means that ice cream has a greater importance than bacon when tracking inflation, not only in the Henderson household, but in the CPI. In other words, the more people spend on an item, the more inflationary changes to its cost will affect the total inflation rate.

Policymakers, researchers, journalists, government bodies, and others use the CPI to make important decisions that directly affect American citizens. U.S. Census Bureau analysts use CPI data to adjust the official poverty thresholds for inflation, and it’s one of several factors the Federal Reserve Board considers when deciding whether to raise or lower interest rates. Employers may use it to determine whether to give cost-of-living increases, and policymakers use the CPI when considering changes to allotments for things like Social Security, military benefits, or school lunch programs.

I hope this deep dive into ice cream spending helps you understand why the Consumer Expenditure Survey is so detailed.

Why Do We Ask about How People Use Their Time?

Editor’s note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor blog. The writer is Rachel Krantz-Kent, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On any given day, about 80 percent of the population age 15 and up watch television, and they watch for an average of 3 hours 29 minutes.* That’s an interesting piece of trivia, you may be thinking, but why does the Bureau of Labor Statistics need to know that? Without context, TV watching may seem like an odd area of focus — but this is just one of many statistics we collect as part of the American Time Use Survey. And Americans across the country use that information every day to get their jobs done.

The statistics above, for example, may be helpful to those promoting healthy behaviors and products, such as those who work in the health and fitness industries. The data can also be useful to television producers in determining programming.

Unlike other BLS surveys that track employment, wages, and prices, the American Time Use Survey tracks a less conventional, but equally important, economic resource that we never have enough of: time. The survey compiles data on how much time Americans spend doing paid work, unpaid household work (such as taking care of children or doing household chores), and all the other activities that compose a typical day.

Some of these measurements have economic and policy-relevant significance. For example, the time people spend doing unpaid household work has implications for measures of national wealth. Information about eldercare providers and the time they spend providing this care informs lawmakers. Measures of physical activity and social contact shed light on the health and well-being of the population. And information about leisure—how much people have and how they spend it—provides valuable insight into the quality of life in the United States.

All of the data are publically available and used by businesses, government agencies, employers, job seekers, and private individuals to examine the different time choices and tradeoffs that people make every day. Here are some other interesting facts the survey reveals about how Americans spend their time.

Unpaid household work: 66 percent of women prepare food on a given day, compared with 40 percent of men.

Why it’s important: These statistics measure one aspect of women’s and men’s contributions to their families and households and help promote the value of all work people do, whether or not they are paid to perform it. Compared with men, women spend a greater share of their time doing unpaid household work, such as food preparation. Statistics like these can shed light on barriers to equal opportunities for women.

A graphic showing how mothers and fathers spend their time on an average day.Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

Where people work: 38 percent of workers in management, business, and financial operations occupations and 35 percent of those employed in professional and related occupations do some or all of their work at home on days they work. Workers employed in other occupations are less likely to work at home.

Why it’s important: Information like this is important for people starting or changing careers. For those interested in this aspect of job flexibility, or for those who want more separation between their work and home, this information can help them identify occupations that are the right fit and decide which careers to pursue.

Childcare: Parents whose youngest child is under age 6 spend 2 hours 8 minutes per day on average providing childcare as their main activity, compared to 1 hour for parents whose youngest child is between the ages of 6 and 12. (These estimates do not include the time parents spend supervising their children while doing other activities.)

Why it’s important: Parenting can be an intense experience for many reasons, including the time it demands of parents. These statistics provide average measures of the time involved in directly caring for children. The data can be helpful to health and community workers whose work supports parents, as well as employers interested in developing ways to promote work-life balance and staff retention.

Eldercare: 61 percent of unpaid eldercare providers are employed.

Why it’s important: Knowing the characteristics of those who provide unpaid care for aging family, friends, and neighbors can help lawmakers create targeted policies and aid community workers in developing supportive programs.

Transportation: Employed people spend an average of 1 hour 6 minutes driving their vehicles, 7 minutes in the passenger seat, and 8 minutes traveling by another mode of transportation on days they work.

Why it’s important: Knowing how workers travel and the amount of time they spend using different modes of transportation can be useful to a variety of people, including city and transportation planners, land and real estate developers, and designers in the automobile industry.

This is just a snapshot of the information available from the American Time Use Survey, all of which is used by researchers, journalists, educators, sociologists, economists, lawmakers, lawyers, and members of the public. View the data listed above and find out more about how time-use data can be used.

* All data are from the 2014 and 2015 American Time Use Surveys.

Working Parents’ Use of Time

Moms vs. Dads on an Average Day

Based on households with married couples who have children under age 18, in which both spouses work full time, 2011–15.

Dads Moms
+55 minutes more working +28 minutes more on housework
+39 minutes more on sports and leisure +28 minutes more caring for children (more if those children are under 6)
+10 minutes more on lawn & garden care +24 minutes more on food prep & cleanup

 

Why the unemployment rate still matters

Just like your body, the economy is a superbly complex system. When you visit doctors or other healthcare providers, they routinely take several measurements — height, weight, blood pressure, and temperature. Tracking these vital signs over time can lead you and your healthcare providers to seek further tests. Yet, even when your healthcare providers need more information, they continue to take the basic measurements.

In much the same way, the government routinely measures the health of the economy. Here at BLS, we specialize in tracking labor market activity, working conditions, productivity, and price changes. One of our most important measures is the national unemployment rate. Since it is measured the same way each month, year after year, changes in the rate can be an important signal of changes in the labor market and economy.

We realize, of course, that the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the full story. It isn’t meant to. Much like your temperature is a necessary measurement, its usefulness increases when viewed with other measures. When we release the unemployment rate each month, we also publish five alternative measures of labor underutilization to help assess labor market conditions from several perspectives.

Chart showing trends in alternative measures of labor underutilization.

In addition, the source for the unemployment data, the Current Population Survey, provides a wealth of information about workers, jobseekers, and people who aren’t working or looking for work. For example, we also get information about trends in labor force participation, a topic that has received much public attention in recent years. BLS releases thousands of other measures monthly, quarterly, and annually, depending on the topic.

For example, if you want to know how adult Black men are performing in the labor market, we have a stat for that. Ditto for people with a less than high school education or veterans with service-connected disabilities.

And if you want to know how employers are doing (say, how many job openings they’ve posted and how many workers have been fired or quit their jobs in the past month), check out our Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

Want to know what is happening in your local area? Not a problem. Each month BLS releases state employment and unemployment data and metropolitan area data too.

We invite you to visit our website or contact one of our expert economists next time you have a question about the health of labor market—or your favorite economic “symptom.”

How United Parcel Service Uses BLS Data

I recently attended a BLS Data Users Conference in Atlanta, which included a lively panel discussion of how companies use BLS data in their everyday work. I was especially struck by the examples shared by Cathy Sparks, the Director of Corporate Workforce Strategy & Analytics for United Parcel Service. As a result, I asked Cathy to write a short blog post that I could share with all of you. My hope is to have more posts in the future highlighting how our data users put our data to work for them!

Cathy shares:

From Reporting to Problem Solving

I am certain that, in the 109-year history of United Parcel Service (UPS), this is the most exciting time to be in Human Resources and working with data.

In 2015, UPS processed nearly 70 million online tracking requests every day and operated more than 1,990 facilities employing roughly 444,000 people. Data is part of everything we do at the world’s largest transportation and logistics company. We tap into data to deliver lasting results. From an HR perspective, we are in the foundational stages of building a true analytics team. We want to use business intelligence to better understand our workforce and align those findings with broader strategic goals.

The recent BLS Data Users Conference in Atlanta was a great opportunity to highlight how we’re using analytics to create value and enhance our problem-solving skills.

Cathy Sparks and her team at UPS discussing data.

Our challenge is to transition from simple reporting to diagnosis. We are finding new opportunities to integrate our internal UPS data with BLS external data to analyze human capital trends, including predictive staffing models, safety correlations, and engagement risks. For example, using our data, we have created a model to evaluate state-by-state seasonal staffing needs. We incorporate BLS data to control for economic conditions, thus enriching the model. We hope to predict employee attrition risks and forecast a two-year, five-year, and seven-year staffing blueprint for our largest metropolitan areas.

The greatest data-driven opportunities are yet to come. UPS data, combined with BLS economic indicators, provide new insights and value throughout our global organization, improving service for our customers around the world.

BLS releases data from the new Occupational Requirements Survey

Pop the corks! We published the first-ever Occupational Requirements Survey estimates and news release this morning. The survey provides unique information about the physical demands, environmental conditions, education and training, and mental requirements of jobs in the United States. We’re running the survey under an agreement with the Social Security Administration so they can make decisions about their disability programs. Employers, jobseekers, and state and local workforce agencies can also use the data to match people with jobs that are right for them. Researchers will find the survey useful for expanding our understanding of the labor market.

Here are a few highlights from the survey for 2016.

  • 31 percent of jobs in 2016 had no minimum education requirement; 17.5 percent of jobs required at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • 75 percent of jobs required some on-the-job training, and 48 percent required prior work experience.
  • 47 percent of jobs involved working outdoors at some point during the workday.
  • 66 percent of jobs involved some reaching overhead.
  • 39 percent of jobs involved regular contact with others several times per hour.

Chart showing percentage of jobs with selected physicial requirements in 2016

Creating new gold-standard information like this takes years of testing and development. Staff from BLS and the Social Security Administration worked closely together to get it right. After today’s news release, we will highlight the survey data in several publications in the coming year. We will feature selected job requirements and occupations. For more information on the new survey, including Frequently Asked Questions about it, please see www.bls.gov/ors.