Tag Archives: Statistics awareness

Wage Information Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

On April 16, BLS reported that median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers rose 2.7 percent over the year.

On April 30, BLS reported that the Employment Cost Index for wages of private industry workers rose 3.0 percent over the year.

On May 2, BLS reported that hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector rose 2.5 percent over the year.

On May 3, BLS reported that average hourly earnings for private industry workers rose 3.2 percent over the year.

What’s going on here? Why so much wage information? And which one is RIGHT?

At BLS, we get questions like this all the time, and the answer is usually “it depends.” There is no one answer that fits every question on wages; there are just different answers depending on what you want to measure. People come to BLS looking for all kinds of answers, and we want to provide as much information as we can. Thus, we have many measures of wages (and other forms of compensation) — a dozen, to be exact.

Do you want to know about wages for an industry? An occupation? By location? For men and women? Based on education? Adjusted for inflation? Including benefits? How wages relate to spending patterns? How wages relate to worker productivity? BLS has it all, and more.

We have so much wage information that even we get confused. So we developed a tool to make the dozen wage series a little easier to understand. It’s an interactive guide that lists all 12 data sources and 32 key details about each of those sources, like how often it is available.

I can hear you now — that’s 384 pieces of information (12 x 32). I’m just looking for one piece of information, not almost 400. And how do you fit all that information on one page, anyway?

The interactive guide limits the display to 3 sources at a time — you pick the sources you want to see.

A table showing 3 BLS sources of compensation information and data characteristics available from those sources.

Or you can pick one characteristic, like “measures available by occupation” and get an answer for all 12 data sources.

A table showing the occupational information available from several BLS data sources on compensation.

This tool is on the BLS beta site. We want you to give it a try and provide feedback. Check it out and leave us a comment. Want to know even more? Watch this video that helps make sense of BLS wage information.

BLS Local Data App Now Available for Android Devices

The wait is over! The BLS Local Data app — a mobile application that connects users with the data they need to know about local labor markets — is now available for Android devices. Search “BLS Local Data” in Google Play.

The BLS Local Data app, first released for iPhones last fall, uses the BLS API to present local data and national comparisons for unemployment rates, employment, and wages. 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.

BLS continues to partner with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to expand the features and data in the app. A second version is in development and will be available soon for both iPhone and Android devices. Version 2.0 will include employment and wage data for detailed industries and occupations. It also will have new charting functionality that will allow users to plot the historical unemployment rate time series for their local area of interest.

Check out the app and bring the wealth of local labor market data produced by BLS directly to your mobile devices!

The BLS Local Data App showing employment and wage data for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Greetings and a Meditation on Alan Krueger

William W. Beach became the 15th Commissioner of Labor Statistics in March 2019.

I am a little late with my first blog, but I’m sure readers can appreciate what it means to start this job as Commissioner of Labor Statistics on a week that ends in the publication of the Employment Situation report.

Every moment of my first week at BLS has been highlighted by the unfailing grace and cheerfulness of the career staff.

I felt very strongly that my first blog as BLS Commissioner should be about the late Alan Krueger’s pioneering work, particularly as it relates to both the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A Meditation on Alan Krueger
(1960 – 2019)

I have been thinking a lot about Alan Krueger since his passing on March 16. Thinking about the loss, of course: the shock of losing such a penetrating mind, such a courageous scholar. And thinking about the insights and breakthroughs he could yet have made: at 58, Alan Krueger was striding strongly.

The past three weeks have seen a steady flow of recollections in the popular and professional press. Let me recommend two highly accessible pieces: Ben Casselman and Jim Tankersley’s New York Times essay and Larry Summers’s deeply thoughtful recollection in the Washington Post. There are more out there and more to come.

I’m writing today to remind us of Professor Krueger’s close ties to our daily work. He, indeed, connected in so many ways. First, he was a consummate though sometimes reluctant government economist. Dr. Krueger served as the Department of Labor’s chief economist from 1994 to 1995, returned to the federal government service in 2009 as an assistant secretary in the Treasury Department from 2009 through 2010, and finally served on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2011 through 2013.

This service record as a government economist, as important as it is, is not Professor Krueger’s deepest tie to BLS. Rather, and second, he stood out among peers for his leadership as an empirical economist. Starting with his celebrated study of the economic effects of the minimum wage in 1994, when he and David Card pioneered the use of natural experiments in policy analysis, to his recent pathbreaking work on the opioid crisis, Alan Krueger made important contributions to our understanding of work and public policy through innovative use of data.

This is what ties him most to us, in my view. His sometimes controversial conclusions to one side, Professor Krueger looked at the world when he wrote. That may seem an obvious posture for any economist, but too often analysts look elsewhere: for instance, they wrap themselves in strictly theoretical work or confine their own work to the research channels that others have dredged. While theory and replication are essential parts of our profession, they cannot substitute for an active curiosity about the real world and how it is changing. Unless you’re looking out into the world, you may never see the amazing, new developments there that could inspire you to grow beyond the current limits of your economic understanding.

It will take time to define Alan Krueger’s legacy in economics and public policy, but this much is already clear: he left a strong marker of what it means to be a labor economist and a public servant, and he showed two generations of labor researchers that the most fruitful laboratory for economic science is the swirling, crazy world outside our office doors.

Why This Counts: What Do We Know about Strikes and Lockouts?

Strikes and lockouts? Aren’t those 1940s-50s-60s economic activities? Sounds like we are taking a trip to the distant past with Sherman and Mr. Peabody in the WABAC machine. (For you younger readers, these characters can be found in the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, a TV show from the early 1960s.) BLS first collected data on labor and management disputes (work stoppages) in the 1880s. BLS has continuously published work stoppage information since 1947, for events covering at least 1,000 workers. Recently, high profile work stoppages by public school teachers and others have kept these types of activities in the news.

What are work stoppages?

The work stoppages program provides monthly and annual data on major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting one full shift or longer. For this report, BLS does not differentiate between strikes and lockouts.

  • Strikes are a temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees to express a grievance, enforce a demand, or protest the terms, conditions, or provisions of a contract.
  • Lockouts are a temporary denial of employment by management.

Detailed monthly reports from 1993 to the present provide the organizations and unions involved, along with the locations, industries, number of workers directly involved, and days of idleness.

Who uses these data?

Work stoppages provide media, researchers, labor relations specialists, unions, and government agencies with information about labor-management disputes. While the work stoppages program does not report on the nature of the dispute, identifying the details of parties involved helps users assess the impact of compensation trends, union membership and activity, and legislation.

Has work stoppage activity changed over time?

Since BLS began reporting on work stoppages, declines in union membership, the growth of the service industry, technological changes, and other factors have led to a significant reduction in the number of work stoppages. Between 1947 and 1956, there were 3,438 work stoppages. In the decade from 2007 to 2016, there were 143 stoppages. In 2017, there were 7 work stoppages, and in 2018 there were 20.

Number of work stoppages by decade

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

Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018

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

Decreases in the number of work stoppages and the number of workers involved are especially noticeable during recessions. These levels reached an all-time low at the end of the 2007–09 recession. In 1952, there were 2,746,000 workers involved in work stoppages, whereas in 2018 there were 485,000 workers involved.

Number of workers involved in major work stoppages, 1947–2018

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

Another way to evaluate the impact of work stoppages on the national economy is by looking at the number of days workers are away from work because of strikes or lockouts. The number of days of idleness reached a peak in 1959, at about 60,850,000 days. The second largest number was in 1970, with 52,761,000 of days of idleness. In 2018, there were 2,815,400 days of idleness. Number of days idle from work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018

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

Where are work stoppages most prevalent?

Of the 559 major work stoppages between 1993 and 2018, 423 occurred in private industry, 95 in local government, 40 in state government, and 1 in both state and local government. Most stoppages during that period, 458, occurred within individual states, while 101 occurred in two or more states. California, the state with the largest share of national employment (13.6 percent), had the largest share of work stoppages, 24.2 percent. Texas, which accounts for 9.6 percent of national employment, accounted for 2.9 percent of all work stoppages (excluding interstate and nationally reported stoppages).

Share of national employment and share of major work stoppages by state, 1993–2018

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

These data also allow users to evaluate differences in the number of work stoppages by industry. From 1993 to 2018, there were almost as many stoppages in manufacturing (158) as the next two industries combined. Health care and social assistance had 83 work stoppages, while educational services had 79 work stoppages. Of the 79 educational services stoppages, 75 were in state and local government, with 50 occurring in local government and 25 in state government.Number of major work stoppages by industry, 1993–2018

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

Want to know more?

We hope this discussion of work stoppages and a look to the past was almost as good as using the WABAC machine!

Number of work stoppages by decade
Decade Number
1947–1956 3,438
1957– 1966 2,500
1967–1976 3,321
1977–1986 1,446
1987–1996 404
1997–2006 240
2007–2016 140
Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018
Year Number of work stoppages Number of workers involved Number of days idle
1947 270 1,629,000 25,720,000
1948 245 1,435,000 26,127,000
1949 262 2,537,000 43,420,000
1950 424 1,698,000 30,390,000
1951 415 1,462,000 15,070,000
1952 470 2,746,000 48,820,000
1953 437 1,623,000 18,130,000
1954 265 1,075,000 16,630,000
1955 363 2,055,000 21,180,000
1956 287 1,370,000 26,840,000
1957 279 887,000 10,340,000
1958 332 1,587,000 17,900,000
1959 245 1,381,000 60,850,000
1960 222 896,000 13,260,000
1961 195 1,031,000 10,140,000
1962 211 793,000 11,760,000
1963 181 512,000 10,020,000
1964 246 1,183,000 16,220,000
1965 268 999,000 15,140,000
1966 321 1,300,000 16,000,000
1967 381 2,192,000 31,320,000
1968 392 1,855,000 35,367,000
1969 412 1,576,000 29,397,000
1970 381 2,468,000 52,761,000
1971 298 2,516,000 35,538,000
1972 250 975,000 16,764,000
1973 317 1,400,000 16,260,000
1974 424 1,796,000 31,809,000
1975 235 965,000 17,563,000
1976 231 1,519,000 23,962,000
1977 298 1,212,000 21,258,000
1978 219 1,006,000 23,774,000
1979 235 1,021,000 20,409,000
1980 187 795,000 20,844,000
1981 145 729,000 16,908,000
1982 96 656,000 9,061,000
1983 81 909,000 17,461,000
1984 62 376,000 8,499,000
1985 54 324,000 7,079,000
1986 69 533,000 11,861,000
1987 46 174,000 4,481,000
1988 40 118,000 4,381,000
1989 51 452,000 16,996,000
1990 44 185,000 5,926,000
1991 40 392,000 4,584,000
1992 35 364,000 3,989,000
1993 35 182,000 3,981,000
1994 45 322,000 5,021,000
1995 31 192,000 5,771,000
1996 37 273,000 4,889,000
1997 29 339,000 4,497,000
1998 34 387,000 5,116,000
1999 17 73,000 1,996,000
2000 39 394,000 20,419,000
2001 29 99,000 1,151,000
2002 19 46,000 659,600
2003 14 129,200 4,091,200
2004 17 170,700 3,344,100
2005 22 99,600 1,736,100
2006 20 70,100 2,687,500
2007 21 189,200 1,264,800
2008 15 72,200 1,954,100
2009 5 12,500 124,100
2010 11 44,500 302,300
2011 19 112,500 1,020,200
2012 19 148,100 1,130,800
2013 15 54,500 289,900
2014 11 34,300 200,200
2015 12 47,300 740,000
2016 15 99,400 1,543,400
2017 7 25,300 439,800
2018 20 485,200 2,815,400
Share of national employment and share of major work stoppages by state, 1993–2018
State Share of national employment Share of major work stoppages
California 13.6% 24.2%
Texas 9.6 2.9
New York 6.7 8.8
Florida 7.1 0.7
Pennsylvania 4.4 8.1
Illinois 4.4 9.1
Ohio 4.0 7.5
Georgia 3.5 1.3
Michigan 3.4 6.3
North Carolina 3.4 1.1
New Jersey 3.1 3.8
Number of major work stoppages by industry, 1993–2018
Industry Number of stoppages
Manufacturing 158
Health care and social assistance 83
Educational services 79
Construction 61
Transportation and warehousing 54
Public administration 23
Retail Trade 22
Information 20
Utilities 14
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 12
Accomodation and food services 10
Mining 8
Wholesale trade 4
Finance and insurance 4
Real estate and rental and leasin 3
Professional, scientific, and technical services 2
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 2

Wages and Benefits in a City Near You

This started out as a blog about wages and benefits in New York City. But then I shared it with some colleagues, who thought it was too Gotham-centric. My real purpose is to highlight the data on employer costs for wages and benefits in several large metropolitan areas, including New York.

But maybe I should back up a little. Since 1986, BLS has published information on what it costs employers to employ their workforce. Employer Costs for Employee Compensation look at what employers spend on wages and benefits. Over the years, we have expanded the data to provide more industry and occupational detail and other job characteristics, such as union versus nonunion status and full-time versus part-time work. For the past decade, information has been available for private industry workers in 15 metropolitan areas, including New York. More on that in a moment.

Across the United States, private employers spent an average of $34.17 per hour worked on wages and benefits in March 2018. Of this amount, 69.5 percent ($23.76) went for wages. The rest (30.5 percent or $10.41) was for a wide range of benefits, including paid time off, insurances, retirement and savings plans, and legally required benefits (for example, the employer’s share of Social Security taxes).

There is a lot of variation around that average. For example, private employers in the financial activities industry spent an average of $49.46 per hour worked on wages and benefits, while employers in the leisure and hospitality industry spent less than one-third of that amount — $14.94. And the share of compensation dollars going toward benefits also varies — 40.4 percent for union workers, compared with 29.1 percent for nonunion workers.

Employer costs per hour worked for employee compensation, private industry, selected job characteristics, March 2018

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

So how can you use this information? If you run a business, you might compare your compensation costs to the average for your industry. And you might see how your split between wage and benefit costs stacks up. As an employee, you might also check how you fare against the average.

Private employers in the New York metropolitan area (you knew I would get there eventually) spent $45.61 per hour worked to compensate their workers — fully a third more than the national average. New York was one of three metropolitan areas to have costs in the mid-$40 range, along with Boston and Seattle. All were eclipsed by the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area, with average compensation costs of $56.92 per hour worked. In contrast, employers in Miami averaged $31.32.

Employer costs per hour worked for employee compensation, private industry workers in selected metropolitan areas, March 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the article “Compensation costs in San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland averaged $56.92 per hour in March 2018.”

How these costs are split between wages and benefits can vary for many reasons. These include the industry and occupation mix in an area, the extent of collective bargaining, local benefit practices (and legal requirements), and the generosity of benefit plans. Many benefits, such as paid leave and employer matching contributions to 401(k) plans, are tied partly to wages. The higher the wages, the higher the cost of benefits.

With this in mind, the data tell a couple of different stories. On the one hand, the share of compensation costs going toward benefits hovers around the national average (30.5 percent) in all areas, ranging from 27.7 percent in Dallas to 33.6 percent in Detroit. But the actual dollar amounts vary. Employers spend an average of $8.92 per hour worked on benefits in Miami and nearly twice that much ($17.12) in the San Francisco Bay Area. As noted, many of these costs are tied to wages.

Again, this information might be helpful to compare your compensation costs to the average in your area. Businesses might use the data when making relocation or expansion decisions. Or you might just call your friends in New York and show off how much you know about the Big Apple.

We update the national information quarterly, 3 months following the reference date. Data for the 15 metropolitan areas is available once a year — in the June release providing information for March. To keep the data consistent, I’ve used March 2018 data in this blog. The next release, with December 2018 data, is scheduled for March 19. Watch for these data coming your way soon. We also have more charts on employer costs for employee compensation.

Employer costs per hour worked for employee compensation, private industry, selected job characteristics, March 2018
Characteristic Wages Benefits
Union workers $28.42 $19.23
Nonunion workers 23.31 9.56
1–99 workers 20.87 7.92
100–499 workers 23.94 10.82
500 workers or more 32.00 17.16
Financial activities 32.53 16.93
Leisure and hospitality 11.73 3.21