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Tag Archives: Survey redesign

President’s 2016 budget would expand labor market data

A few weeks ago President Obama presented his fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. That budget proposes $632.7 million in funding for BLS, an increase of $40.5 million over our fiscal year 2015 funding. The 2016 budget proposes new funding to help BLS meet some important data needs. I asked Mike Horrigan, the Associate Commissioner for Employment and Unemployment Statistics, to explain how we plan to use the proposed funding to improve our understanding of labor markets.

The President’s 2016 budget asks Congress for funding that would expand our data on the flows into and out of employment. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) provides monthly national measures on labor demand by industry and firm size. These measures complement the unemployment rate, which measures labor supply. JOLTS is the only BLS survey that measures current demand in the labor market. We publish a monthly report that shows the levels and rates for job openings, hires, and separations. The report also presents information on three types of separations: quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations. BLS currently publishes national and regional JOLTS data 5 to 6 weeks after we collect the data. A growing number of our customers from federal and state agencies, research organizations, and elsewhere have asked us for more detailed and timely JOLTS data.

The new funding would improve the JOLTS program in three ways:

  1. It would make the data available sooner. We would publish JOLTS data when we publish The Employment Situation each month.
  2. It would make the data more accurate and relevant. We would be able to publish more industry detail and new information for states and by establishment size.
  3. It would make the survey deeper and more agile. We could add questions on labor market issues to strengthen our understanding of openings, hires, and separations.

In our dynamic economy, conditions can change rapidly. Better information on the demand for labor can provide an early warning of downturns or signal improvement ahead. Over the longer term, more information about labor demand may help us predict trends in the wages and skills of jobs created and destroyed.

The President’s 2016 budget also asks for funding to add questions each year to the Current Population Survey. The survey provides high-quality estimates each month about employment, unemployment, worker characteristics, and other topics. The survey can’t provide information on some important groups, such as temporary workers, without more funding.

To fill this gap, we would add questions to the survey one month each year. In odd-numbered years, the survey would ask questions about workers in temporary jobs. These questions would explore important topics, such as what types of workers are most likely to have temporary jobs and how temporary employment has changed.

In even-numbered years, the survey would ask questions on other labor market topics. For example, we plan to ask questions about work schedules, including flexible work schedules, shift work, and working at home. These questions would provide insight on workplace flexibility and work-family balance for women and men of different occupations, ages, family types, and race and ethnic groups. These questions also would help us study how flexible work arrangements affect earnings.

With this new funding, we also could develop new questions on emerging topics, such as entrepreneurship. This information would improve our understanding of new trends and developments in the labor market.

Trade indexes in the Producer Price Index

At BLS, we strive to find the best methods for measuring the U.S. economy and to explain those methods clearly to our customers. We’re always eager to clarify issues that aren’t easy to understand. This week’s Producer Price Index (PPI) report for October 2014 received more attention than usual. The 0.2-percent increase in our headline number, the index for Final Demand, surprised many people who had seen recent news reports about large declines in energy prices and their impact on overall inflation trends. Although the index for Final Demand Energy fell 3.0 percent, the October advance in overall Final Demand prices resulted mainly from a 1.5-percent rise in the index for Final Demand Trade Services.

The trade services index is part of a new, more complete method of measuring producer prices that we introduced in January 2014. This new system includes prices for goods, services, and construction. We have some materials to help you understand this more complete picture of the domestic economy. We welcome your thoughts and questions, and I invite you to comment below.

The trade services indexes measure the changes in margins that wholesalers and retailers receive, rather than price changes for physical goods themselves. Businesses in the trade sector buy goods to resell. These businesses usually don’t change the goods before reselling them, so the PPI treats trade businesses as suppliers of services rather than goods. The PPI measures the output of a trade business as the difference between its selling price and purchase price of an item. (This measure reflects any discounts in the selling or purchase price.) This difference is the margin. Margin prices reflect the value that businesses add for marketing, storing, and making goods easily available to buy. You can read more about the methods for measuring trade services in the PPI.

The goal of the PPI is to measure price change for all domestic output. Trade is a significant part of the U.S. economy, so the PPI now includes trade services in the overall Final Demand index. BLS also publishes special indexes that exclude components such as food, energy, exports, and even trade services. For example, in October 2014, the index for Final Demand less Trade Services declined 0.2 percent, while the index for Final Demand less Foods, Energy, and Trade edged up 0.1 percent. Our goal is to allow you to view producer price changes from several different vantage points, while emphasizing the more comprehensive picture.

Gaining insights from journalists to improve BLS products and services

Labor Secretary Tom Perez and I met recently with more than two dozen journalists to discuss ways in which BLS can improve the information we provide about the economy and how we provide it. I speak frequently with reporters, and so do many staff members at BLS. It’s part of our mission at BLS to be accessible and provide good customer service to help data users understand the data and analyses BLS produces. Typically when we speak to reporters, we’re providing them with information. The discussion Secretary Perez and I had with journalists was different in the sense that reporters were actually providing us with information. BLS has technical and user advisory committees with whom we meet on a regular basis to get advice about our products and procedures. BLS gains many valuable insights from those committees, but this was our first roundtable discussion with members of the media, and I’m really excited about it.

Members of the media are essential distributors of statistics from BLS and other federal statistical agencies. Although it is increasingly easy to get information about the labor market and economy directly from BLS through our website or Twitter feed, most people don’t get their information that way. More often they get it through a broadcast, web, or print news source. Journalists multiply the reach of BLS every time they cover a story that uses our statistics. I truly appreciate how journalists show their audiences the value of an objective data source like BLS. Journalists play a vital role in informing their audiences about subjects such as labor force participation, unemployment, or price changes, but journalists also can teach their audiences how to use data properly and what to trust along the way.

This group of journalists provided a number of really excellent suggestions about how BLS can improve the public’s understanding about the economy. Some of these suggestions might involve new surveys, additional questions in existing surveys, or tapping into data sources that don’t involve surveys. In many cases, however, the types of information these journalists suggested were things that BLS already provides, but we need to do a better job of increasing awareness about these data sources or making them easier to use.

Secretary Perez and I found this discussion to be extremely helpful, and I look forward to further discussions about how best to implement some of these ideas so that we can provide the public with data that are accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible.

New pilot study from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses

I want to draw your attention to an exciting new pilot study being conducted by the BLS Occupational Safety and Health Statistics program. Through the annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, we are collecting new data on the circumstances and worker characteristics for cases where an injured or ill worker can continue to work but needs days of job transfer or restricted work to recuperate. BLS published the 2012 results for six selected industry subsectors this week. The 2011 results were published in April 2013.

Survey data on nonfatal work injuries and illnesses have been collected for more than 40 years since President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Over that 40-year period the survey has evolved with several innovations. Initially the survey was set up to report on summary statistics for the private sector only. (State and local governments were added in later years.) In 1992, a major innovation occurred when BLS began collecting data on the details of occupational injuries and illnesses that required days away from work—at that time considered the most severe type of nonfatal injury and illness cases. This was important because it was the first time employers, workers, policymakers, and safety and health researchers had comprehensive information about the circumstances leading to injuries and illnesses and the characteristics of the injured or ill workers. In the years following 1992, it became apparent that a second class of cases—days of job transfer or restriction—were becoming more prevalent. While the total number of cases decreased, the distribution shifted, with fewer cases involving days away from work and more cases with days of job transfer or restriction. However, only summary statistics were available for cases with days of job transfer or restriction, and we could not answer certain questions about the cases. For example, were employers simply shifting cases from one type to the other? Do cases with days of job transfer or restriction involve different types of injuries and illnesses than cases with days away from work? Are certain occupations more likely to have one type of case or the other?

BLS is exploring the possibility of collecting comprehensive data on the details of circumstances and worker characteristics for cases involving days of job transfer or restriction. Beginning with the 2011 pilot study covering six industry subsectors, we are learning more about the mix of the circumstances leading to those types of cases. We are also learning what challenges there are in collecting these new data, such as how collecting information on days away from work may be affected by also collecting information on days of job transfer or restriction. Understanding the case circumstances can improve efforts to continue the downward trend of occupational injuries and illnesses in the United States.

Consumer expenditures in 2012 and related articles

This has been an eventful week for the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey. On Tuesday, BLS published a news release on consumer expenditures in 2012. Average expenditures per consumer unit in 2012 were $51,442, an increase of 3.5 percent from 2011 levels. The 2012 increase in spending outpaced the 2.1-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. Most of the major components of household spending increased in 2012. The 11.2-percent rise in cash contributions (including payments for support of college students, alimony and child support, and giving to charities and religious organizations) was the largest percentage increase among all major components. Spending on transportation and health care rose significantly, while spending on housing and entertainment increased modestly. The feature The Economics Daily includes some graphics on trends in consumer spending over the last decade and on spending by category in 2012.

BLS also published a new Monthly Labor Review article this week about the ongoing research on the best ways to improve the Consumer Expenditure Survey. The survey collects information on spending, income, and household characteristics. This information is used by BLS in computing the Consumer Price Index. Information from the survey also is used by economic policymakers, businesses, academic researchers, and various federal agencies. The project to redesign the survey began in 2009 with the goal of reducing measurement error, particularly error associated with underreporting. Other goals of the redesign were to halt or reverse the decline in response rates while also managing operational costs. The article discusses the motivation, challenges, and accomplishments of the redesign initiative.