Tag Archives: Statistics awareness

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.

Planning BLS Strategy for 2025 and Beyond

The start of the New Year seems like an appropriate time to share the new BLS Strategic Plan, which is designed to provide a roadmap for BLS over the next 5 years and beyond. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about how we developed this plan and then highlight some of its content.

We have a lot of resources to guide us in crafting the strategic plan. Consider:

  • As an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, BLS provides statistical guidance and support to the department and its agencies. As noted in the Department of Labor’s Strategic Plan, BLS provides sound and impartial information about the economy for decision making.
  • As part of the decentralized U.S. statistical system, BLS works with its sister statistical agencies to share ideas, coordinate common activities, and improve operations.
  • We adhere to various laws, regulations, and policies to ensure that we provide accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible information. Of particular note is the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, which reaffirms the confidentiality of statistical information and encourages cooperation and efficiencies across the statistical system.

Using all these inputs, BLS senior staff spent the last year looking both inward and outward to refine our mission and vision, and to identify broad strategies and individual goals and objectives for the coming years. We considered our strengths and weaknesses, looked for opportunities and identified threats, and refined a laundry list of ideas into a concise yet comprehensive plan.

It starts with our mission statement:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.

We then present the values and principles that guide us in fulfilling that mission, including:

  • Independence from partisan interests
  • Consideration of the needs of a diverse set of customers
  • Confidentiality of our data providers
  • Innovation
  • Stewardship of our staff and our resources

The plan includes five strategies, the first of which is to produce objective statistics and analysis, the core work of our agency. While always striving to improve, we must never lose focus on the hundreds of new data releases we produce each year.

The remaining strategies focus on how we do our work, and how we improve upon that work. Strategy 2 is about making improvements in the information we provide and what techniques we use to produce that information. Strategy 3 is about our source data, with special focus not only on traditional survey respondents but also on alternative data sources. Strategy 4 focuses on managing the resources that allow us to do our work, including our people, our funding, and our infrastructure. Finally, Strategy 5 is about you—our customers who come to us for information. We strive to let you have a seamless customer experience today, and we look for ways to make that experience even better tomorrow.

One of our many challenges in developing this strategic plan was to ensure all BLS staff see themselves in the strategies, goals, and objectives. We also want all BLS stakeholders—data providers, data users, researchers, policymakers, and more—to see their unique perspectives addressed. We hope you will take a few minutes to review the BLS Strategic Plan and let us know if we’ve met this challenge. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Improving the Accuracy of the Consumer Price Index

We are in the “hot stove” months of the baseball year, when teams make trades and other decisions to improve their prospects for next season. Even the best teams, like the World Champion Washington Nationals, can’t rest on their laurels. In much the same way the Nationals continue to tinker with a good thing to make it better, we constantly work to improve our gold standard products, including the Consumer Price Index (CPI). There’s a lot going on with the CPI these days, and we’ll use this blog and other publications to share the latest information. You’ll read about how we reflect changes in consumer spending patterns, (including new goods), how we’re using other rich sources of data on prices and spending, how we’re accounting for changes in the quality of goods and services, and much more. So let’s get started.

The CPI is designed to measure the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The CPI is used to determine annual cost-of-living allowances for Social Security beneficiaries. The CPI also is used to adjust the federal income tax system for inflation and as the yardstick for U.S. Treasury inflation-indexed bonds. These are just a few of the many uses of the CPI.

The CPI dates back to 1912, when the Washington baseball team was called the Senators and Walter Johnson ruled the mound. Throughout the history of the CPI, there has been debate about the concepts the CPI should measure and whether it might overstate or understate changes in consumer living costs. The CPI has undergone methodological changes both in response to these discussions and to reflect the changing economic environment. If we hadn’t made these changes, transportation, medical care, recreation, and other goods and services would still be combined into one “miscellaneous” category. Taking the long view, we can track major shifts in consumer inflation for more than a century.

Chart showing 12-month percent change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), 1914 to 2019

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in our database at data.bls.gov/timeseries/CUUR0000SA0

In the 1960s, a committee commissioned by Congress recommended that BLS move the CPI closer toward a cost-of-living measure. We responded to those recommendations by creating the CPI for all urban consumers (CPI-U). The former index for urban wage earners was relabeled as the CPI-W. Today, the CPI-U represents the spending patterns of about 93 percent of the population, while the CPI-W represents the spending patterns of about 29 percent.

Here are a few more recent milestones in the history of the CPI:

  • In 1988, following direction from Congress, BLS began calculating the CPI for Americans age 62 and older—called the CPI-E—as an experimental index.
  • In the early 1990s, Congress directed another study of the CPI, popularly referred to as the Boskin Commission. This commission estimated the CPI was overstating the rise in the cost of living and recommended changes in the way the CPI is designed and estimated.
  • In response, BLS sponsored a project in 2002 with the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) to investigate conceptual, measurement, and other statistical issues in the development of cost-of-living indexes. At this point, we have adopted completely, partially, or experimentally almost all of the CNSTAT recommendations. This includes developing and publishing the Chained CPI, which broadly accounts for consumer substitution of goods and services.

But we can’t stop researching and improving. Today, consumers buy goods and services that weren’t even known a decade ago. And we buy things in many different ways, including from the living room sofa. The growth of e-commerce has created enormous opportunities, but also challenges, for measuring inflation. We continue to work on improvements in response to these developments, and we will talk more about them in future blogs and other publications. In addition, we recently sponsored another CNSTAT panel to investigate three key methodological issues for the CPI:

  1. How best to incorporate data on transactions?
  2. How best to integrate other data sources in the indexes for health insurance, owner-occupied housing, and durable goods?
  3. How to lessen certain types of substitution bias, such as when consumers purchase chicken when the price of steak increases? (Our methods already do a good job accounting for shifts between more similar items, such as between steak and ground beef.)

CNSTAT will convene an expert panel and hold a workshop. Both the panel kickoff and the workshop will be open to the public and will be announced in advance on the BLS website. The panel will then spend about a year in internal discussions and preparing a written report for our consideration.

We expect the CNSTAT report in May of 2021—new ideas, to go with the start of a new baseball season. I’ll be back to blog about the results, so be sure to check back here.

Meet Our New Science and Technology Fellow at BLS

Samantha Tyner
Samantha Tyner

Seeing that we are the U.S. Bureau of LABOR Statistics, we go the extra mile to attract the highest quality labor to accomplish our mission. This includes over 2,000 permanent staff scattered around the country. We also partner with state employees on several BLS programs, and we work with contractors and others to get the job done. Further, we look for opportunities to bring in specialized talent to help with some projects, such as the Civic Digital Fellows who joined us this past summer. Today I want to recognize the first-ever Science and Technology Policy Fellow to spend time at BLS — Samantha Tyner.

The Science & Technology Policy Fellowship is a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). To understand this program in a nutshell, let me quote directly from their website:

“AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) provide opportunities to outstanding scientists and engineers to learn first-hand about policymaking and contribute their knowledge and analytical skills in the policy realm. Fellows serve yearlong assignments in the federal government and represent a broad range of backgrounds, disciplines, and career stages. Each year, STPF adds to a growing corps over 3,000 strong of policy-savvy leaders working across academia, government, nonprofits, and industry to serve the nation and citizens around the world.”

This is the first year BLS has worked with AAAS to bring on a Science and Technology Fellow. We are so fortunate that Samantha (Sam) Tyner started in September and will be with us over the next year. Sam, one of about 200 fellows in the current class, earned her Ph.D. in statistics from Iowa State University and was most recently a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence. She is working in the BLS Office of Survey Methods Research (OSMR), focusing on interactive data visualization, text mining, and effective communications to wider audiences.

Let’s find out a little bit about Sam and her fellowship. I asked her what drew her to the federal government. She said she knew pretty early on in graduate school that she didn’t want to go the traditional professor route. She also wasn’t particularly interested in working in one of those internet giants, where the statistics are interesting but the focus is on getting people to click more. She wanted to find ways to use her statistical skills to solve real world problems, and government seemed like a good place for that.

Her first impressions of BLS have been positive. “It’s like hanging out with a bunch of professors, but the staff in OSMR is much more laid back.” One of her current projects involves text mining of BLS mentions on Twitter — what are people saying about us. We’ll use this research to learn how we can better serve our customers.

Another project involves BLS data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. There is so much data each quarter, down to the county level. She is developing an R Shiny app that will graph these data and allow users to do quick searches. I got to see a quick demo — impressive work after only 2 months on the job.

She is an expert in data visualization, so I asked her what she thinks of some of the charts that BLS produces. I think she was a bit reluctant to criticize, but the comment “you do have a lot of bar charts” was very telling. She describes her goal as to “take a sad chart and make it better.” We certainly welcome her guidance and look forward to producing fewer sad charts in the future.

Beyond all the work Sam is doing at BLS, she also provides posts on the AAAS blog, focusing on some practical aspects of her research. A recent blog taps into her expertise on data visualization. She writes about a problem that can sometimes occur when charts provide too much information. We hope we are not making this mistake with BLS charts.

I’m glad that Samantha has gotten a good start to her Fellowship. We are planning to take full advantage of her research and skills to improve BLS products. I asked her what will make this year a success. Her response — a job offer. Maybe at BLS, or at one of many government agencies where she can use her skills. She will be an asset anywhere she goes.

New Data on Employment and Wages in U.S. Establishments with Foreign Ownership

Did you know that U.S. establishments at least partially owned by foreign companies employed 5.5 million U.S. workers in 2012? That was 5.0 percent of U.S. private-sector employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently partnered with the Bureau of Economic Analysis to produce new data on foreign direct investment in the United States. These two agencies created a new, richer dataset on employment, wages, and occupations in U.S. establishments that have at least one foreign owner.

So how do we define foreign direct investment anyway? In the simplest sense, it is when a U.S. establishment has an owner from another country with at least a 10-percent stake. We consider any establishment that does not meet this threshold as domestically owned. The new data are more detailed than any data previously available on foreign direct investment in the United States. This first set of data is for 2012, but the agencies plan to work together to produce more recent data soon.

Nearly two-thirds of jobs in establishments with foreign ownership had European ownership (3.5 million jobs). The United Kingdom accounted for 874,000 of these jobs. Asia accounted for 17 percent (936,000 jobs) of jobs in U.S. establishments with foreign ownership. Canada accounted for 12 percent (671,000 jobs). The remaining world regions together accounted for less than 8 percent.

Now let’s look at how employment in establishments with foreign ownership breaks down within the United States. The map below shows the percent of private employment in establishments with foreign ownership in each state. South Carolina had the largest share of private employment in establishments with foreign ownership, 8.0 percent. Other states with large shares include New Hampshire, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Indiana.

Map showing  each state's percent of private employment in establishments with foreign ownership, 2012

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

Each state’s percent of employment in establishments with foreign ownership depends in part on the industry mix in the state. The chart below shows the percent of each industry’s employment in establishments with foreign ownership. In mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, 14.7 percent of employment is in establishments with foreign ownership. A large share of employment in Alaska is in this industry. Alaska’s share of employment in establishments with foreign ownership, 5.7 percent, is above the national average. Alaska’s vast energy resources may play a role in its share of employment in establishments with foreign ownership.

About 13.2 percent of all employees in manufacturing work in establishments with foreign ownership. Michigan has a large share of employment in manufacturing, and also a large share of employment in establishments with foreign ownership.

Chart showing percent of private employment in establishments with foreign ownership, by industry, 2012

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

Now let’s turn from employment to wages. The map below shows how wages in establishments with foreign ownership compare with wages in domestically owned establishments across the country. We make this comparison by calculating the ratio of what workers make in average wages in establishments with foreign ownership compared to the average wage in domestically owned establishments. Wage ratios greater than one mean the average for establishments with foreign ownership is higher than for domestically owned establishments. The U.S. wage ratio in 2012 was 1.57, and every state had a wage ratio greater than one. The highest wage ratio was in New York, at 1.98. At the other end of the spectrum, Vermont had a wage ratio of 1.05.

Map showing each state's ratio of average wages in establishments with foreign ownership to domestically owned establishments, 2012

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

Does this mean every establishment with foreign ownership pays higher wages than domestically owned establishments? Let’s analyze wage ratios by industry. We see that the health care and social assistance industry had a wage ratio of 0.86 in 2012. All other major industry groups had wage ratios of 1.00 or higher. The finance and insurance industry had a wage ratio of 1.82.

Want to know more about these data? See our Spotlight on Statistics, “A look at employment and wages in U.S. establishments with foreign ownership.”

Chart showing ratio of average wages in establishments with foreign ownership to domestically owned establishments, by industry, 2012

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

BLS and the Bureau of Economic Analysis hope to continue this interagency collaboration. Our goal is to merge and analyze more recent data from both agencies. When agencies work together to produce new datasets with little increase in cost to the public, all data users benefit. Producing accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible products is the BLS mission. This collaboration to produce new relevant data allows us to improve our service to the American people.

Percent of private employment in establishments with foreign ownership, 2012
StateEmployment share

National

5.0%

Alabama

5.4

Alaska

5.7

Arizona

3.9

Arkansas

4.5

California

4.2

Colorado

4.6

Connecticut

6.5

Delaware

6.0

District of Columbia

3.4

Florida

3.6

Georgia

5.5

Hawaii

6.0

Idaho

2.9

Illinois

5.1

Indiana

6.4

Iowa

4.0

Kansas

5.7

Kentucky

6.2

Louisiana

3.9

Maine

6.1

Maryland

4.7

Massachusetts

6.3

Michigan

6.6

Minnesota

4.0

Mississippi

3.4

Missouri

4.0

Montana

1.8

Nebraska

3.6

Nevada

3.8

New Hampshire

6.9

New Jersey

6.5

New Mexico

3.0

New York

5.8

North Carolina

6.2

North Dakota

3.8

Ohio

5.3

Oklahoma

3.6

Oregon

3.4

Pennsylvania

5.5

Rhode Island

6.1

South Carolina

8.0

South Dakota

2.1

Tennessee

5.5

Texas

5.3

Utah

4.0

Vermont

3.7

Virginia

5.1

Washington

4.0

West Virginia

4.8

Wisconsin

3.5

Wyoming

3.8
Percent of private employment in establishments with foreign ownership, by industry, 2012
IndustryEmployment share

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction

14.7%

Manufacturing

13.2

Management of companies and enterprises

9.6

Wholesale trade

9.0

Information

7.8

Finance and insurance

7.5

Utilities

7.3

Transportation and warehousing

6.3

Administrative and waste services

6.0

Professional, scientific, and technical services

5.5

Total private

5.0

Retail trade

4.7

Real estate and rental and leasing

2.2

Construction

1.8

Accommodation and food services

1.6

Other services (except public administration)

1.3

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting

1.0

Health care and social assistance

0.9

Arts, entertainment, and recreation

0.7

Educational services

0.6
Ratio of average wages in establishments with foreign ownership to domestically owned establishments, 2012
StateWage ratio

National

1.57

Alabama

1.44

Alaska

1.63

Arizona

1.28

Arkansas

1.43

California

1.49

Colorado

1.53

Connecticut

1.53

Delaware

1.78

District of Columbia

1.08

Florida

1.52

Georgia

1.36

Hawaii

1.06

Idaho

1.30

Illinois

1.61

Indiana

1.56

Iowa

1.48

Kansas

1.56

Kentucky

1.36

Louisiana

1.67

Maine

1.26

Maryland

1.28

Massachusetts

1.46

Michigan

1.84

Minnesota

1.50

Mississippi

1.63

Missouri

1.55

Montana

1.63

Nebraska

1.35

Nevada

1.47

New Hampshire

1.39

New Jersey

1.64

New Mexico

1.22

New York

1.98

North Carolina

1.47

North Dakota

1.55

Ohio

1.49

Oklahoma

1.40

Oregon

1.41

Pennsylvania

1.43

Rhode Island

1.31

South Carolina

1.43

South Dakota

1.45

Tennessee

1.42

Texas

1.80

Utah

1.45

Vermont

1.05

Virginia

1.23

Washington

1.40

West Virginia

1.33

Wisconsin

1.38

Wyoming

1.72
Ratio of average wages in establishments with foreign ownership to domestically owned establishments, by industry, 2012
IndustryWage ratio

Finance and insurance

1.82

Construction

1.62

Total private

1.57

Accommodation and food services

1.51

Real estate and rental and leasing

1.50

Arts, entertainment, and recreation

1.45

Other services (except public administration)

1.44

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting

1.40

Wholesale trade

1.39

Professional, scientific, and technical services

1.39

Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction

1.28

Management of companies and enterprises

1.23

Retail trade

1.20

Educational services

1.19

Manufacturing

1.18

Utilities

1.15

Administrative and waste services

1.13

Information

1.05

Transportation and warehousing

1.00

Health care and social assistance

0.86