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Tag Archives: Workshops and seminars

Reaching out to Stakeholders—and Steakholders—in Philadelphia

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has staff around the country who serve several critical roles:

  • Contacting employers and households to collect the vital economic information published by BLS
  • Working with partners in the states who also collect and review economic data
  • Analyzing and publishing regional, state, and local data and providing information to a wide variety of stakeholders

To expand the network of local stakeholders who are familiar with and use BLS data to help make good decisions, the BLS regional offices sponsor periodic Data User Conferences. The BLS office in Philadelphia recently held such an event, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

These Data User Conferences typically bring together experts from several broad topic areas. In Philadelphia, participants heard about trends in productivity measures; a mash-up of information on a single occupation—truck drivers—that shows the range of data available (pay and benefits, occupational requirements, and workplace safety); and an analysis of declines in labor force participation.

Typically, these events provide a mix of national and local data and try to include some timely local information. The Philadelphia conference included references to the recent Super Bowl victory by the Philadelphia Eagles and showed how to use the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to compare buying power between 1960 (the last time the Eagles won the NFL Championship) and today.

We also tried to develop a cheesesteak index, a Philadelphia staple. Using data from the February 2018 Consumer Price Index, we can find the change in the price of cheesesteak ingredients over the past year.

Ingredient Change in Consumer Price Index, February 2017 to February 2018
White bread 2.5 percent decrease
Beef and veal 2.1 percent increase
Fresh vegetables 2.1 percent increase
Cheese and related products 0.8 percent decrease

Image of a Philadelphia cheesesteak

These data are for the nation as a whole and are available monthly. Consumer price data are also available for many metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia. These local data are typically available every other month and do not provide as much detail as the national data.

While the Data User Conferences focus on providing information, we also remind attendees the information is only available thanks to the voluntary cooperation of employers and households. The people who attend the conferences can help us produce gold standard data by cooperating with our data-collection efforts. In return we remind them we always have “live” economists available in their local BLS information office to answer questions by phone or email or help them find data quickly.

Although yet another Nor’easter storm was approaching, the recent Philadelphia Data User Conference included an enthusiastic audience who asked good questions and left with a greater understanding of BLS statistics. The next stop on the Data User Conference tour is Atlanta, later this year. Keep an eye on the BLS Southeast Regional Office webpage for more information.

Do You Understand Your Local Economy?

The national unemployment rate may make the headline news every month, but many folks are most interested in understanding their own local economy.

BLS has a stat for that (really MANY statistics for that)! In fact, BLS data were highlighted in a webinar focusing on local data sponsored by the Association for Public Data Users, the American Statistical Association, and the Congressional Management Foundation.

Dr. Martin (Marty) Romitti, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, presented a webinar called “Understanding Your Congressional District’s Economy and Workforce Using Federal Statistical Data.” Though geared to Congressional staff, the information is applicable to anyone interested in knowing more about their local economy.

By using an extended example of the Napa, California, metropolitan area (where we immediately think, “Wine Country!”), Dr. Romitti finds some interesting information that may shatter some of your preconceived notions of that region.

He does this by answering 10 questions — 5 about “our people,” where he uses U.S. Census Bureau data and 5 about “our economy,” where he uses BLS data.

We are going to focus on the BLS portion (run time 31:12)* of the webinar. The five questions Dr. Romitti poses about our economy are:

  1. How healthy is my economy now?
  2. How many unemployed people live in my area?
  3. What are the largest employing industries?
  4. Which industries pay most to workers?
  5. What are our economic strengths?

Below are some steps and tips if you want to access the same information as Dr. Romitti on Note that he uses Internet Explorer; use a different browser and your screen will look different.

Dr. Romitti uses two BLS tools; we have included the path and links to pages as appropriate:

  • To answer Questions 1 and 2: Economy at a Glance -> California -> Napa (Dr. Romitti suggests clicking on the maps.)
    • Tips:
    • For context, suggest you compare your area data to your state numbers. Beware: Your state unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted, while your area data are not.
    • Also, for context, you may want to look at the data over time, such as the last 10 years. Just remember the “Great Recession” occurred starting in late 2007.
  • To answer Questions 3, 4, and 5: BLS Data Tools -> Employment -> Quarterly -> State and County Employment and Wages -> Tables

By following these instructions, you can uncover the same information as Dr. Romitti. We believe Dr. Romitti does a good job of explaining how to answer questions related to local economic data in under an hour!

But wait, there’s more! Let me offer two more resources in your quest for local data:

  1. Are you familiar with our Economic Summaries? These summaries present a sampling of economic information for the area covered, such as unemployment, employment, wages, prices, spending, and benefits. For example, take a look at San Francisco. If you are looking for something quick and easy, you might find what you need in one of these summaries.
  2. The Economic Summaries are produced by the BLS regional information offices. The BLS regional office staff stand ready to assist you with questions about your local economy.

*The taped webinar starts with a musical interlude and some brief introductions. The real action starts at the following run-time intervals:

Run Time                    Presentation Topic   

6:46                             Introduction by Dr. Romitti

11:30                           About our people (Census Bureau data)

31:12                           About our economy (BLS data) begins

52:36                           Regional Economic Accounts (Bureau of Economic Analysis data)

58:53                           Conclusion

60:00                           End

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.

Learning about data needs from our customers and partners

With the current interest in labor market conditions, the end of September was a busy time for me—full of good opportunities to speak with some of our customers and partners. BLS serves many different types of customers in fulfilling our mission to bring you objective, relevant, high-quality statistics and analysis in a timely manner. The public—individuals, businesses, and policymakers—all need this information to make better decisions. Thus, we need to understand our customers’ needs. We have forged many partnerships over the years to learn about those needs and how best to conduct our work.

On September 18 I spoke at the meeting in Burlington, Vermont, of the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA). NASWA is an organization of state administrators of unemployment insurance laws, employment services, training programs, employment statistics, and labor market information. Many of our statistical programs at BLS are conducted through partnerships with the state workforce agencies that compose NASWA. I spoke to NASWA members about how we can strengthen our already strong partnerships to use new technologies and data sources to serve the ever-growing data needs of businesses, workers, jobseekers, households, and public policymakers at the national, state, and local levels.

A few days after the NASWA meeting, I spoke in Washington at a meeting cosponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the International Monetary Fund. The topic of the meeting was “Policy implications of the new U.S. labor market normal.” I took the opportunity to speak to the audience not just about the economic statistics we see in headlines, such as the unemployment rate and job growth, but about other measures that may not be as well known. A few examples of these are the declining but still high levels of long-term unemployment, the still-low number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs, and the decline since 1998 in job gains from new establishments. I also discussed the slow growth in wages and benefits in recent years. I noted that our nation’s output of goods and services in the business sector increased more than eightfold since 1947, while the total hours worked has not quite doubled. That difference between the growth in output and hours represents productivity growth. Measures of productivity growth are important because, as our economy becomes more efficient, workers and business owners can share the gains and improve living standards. While productivity growth is essential for compensation growth, the two don’t always move in lockstep. Of particular note, since 1973, productivity has expanded at an average rate of 1.8 percent annually, while real hourly compensation has grown at half that rate, 0.9 percent.

Two days later, BLS Associate Commissioner Michael Horrigan and I participated in a conference in Washington at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The topic of the conference was “Labor Market Slack: Assessing and Addressing in Real Time.” I chaired a discussion session that examined the question, “Can we reconcile slow wage growth and demographic labor supply decline?” In a discussion session on measures of slack, Michael Horrigan described the important perspectives that several BLS programs provide on labor market slack.

At the end of September I spoke in Chicago at the annual meeting of the National Association for Business Economics (NABE). NABE’s members include business economists and others who use economics in the workplace. My talk focused on the opportunities and challenges BLS faces in the years to come. I highlighted some of our recent improvements to data and services, such as the new aggregation system for the Producer Price Index, the BLS Application Programming Interface (API), and the maps and tables of hurricane flood zones on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. I also talked about some improvements that are coming soon, such as modernizing the Consumer Expenditure Survey, providing data on employment and wages in nonprofit organizations, and adding questions to the monthly Current Population Survey about professional certifications and licenses. Our goal at BLS is to be more flexible, modern, and responsive to the nation’s growing data needs. We need to expand our data offerings, but we can’t sacrifice quality, and we must provide the best value for taxpayer dollars.

I always enjoy speaking to groups like these because it helps me and other BLS leaders learn more about the needs of our data users. The more we know about those needs, the better we can provide the public with data that are most useful—that is, accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible.

“Re-Evaluating Labor Market Dynamics” at the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium

Is the labor market recovering well, facing serious challenges, or both? I recently joined about 100 distinguished economists and central bankers from around the country and world to discuss this and other important questions at the 2014 Economic Policy Symposium at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has hosted this symposium annually since 1978, and this may be the first time that a BLS Commissioner has attended. The topic of this year’s meeting was “Re-Evaluating Labor Market Dynamics.”

The program featured four papers that were presented and discussed, panel discussions on demographics and monetary policy, extensive question-and-answer sessions, and speeches from Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve System, and Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank.

Not surprisingly, BLS data were front and center during the conference. All the papers either used BLS data directly or investigated phenomena seen in BLS data by bringing other data to bear on the issues. Thus, the conference showcased how BLS serves as a trusted source of information essential for formulating good monetary policy and, more generally, for understanding labor market operations, conditions, and trends.

Janet Yellen noted in her opening remarks that the labor market is complex, so monetary policymakers must examine a range of indicators in order to assess the degree of slack in the labor market. I was very gratified to see that most of the expanded set of indicators mentioned by Yellen are produced by BLS.

Overall the discussions at Jackson Hole were stimulating, and I was very pleased to see so much BLS data being used to inform policy discussions.