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Commissioner's Corner April 2009–April 2014 Archives

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BLS Commissioner Erica L. Groshen

Welcome to the Commissioner's Corner. The BLS is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy. The Bureau operates surveys and programs that measure employment and unemployment, compensation, worker safety, productivity, price trends, consumer spending patterns, and Americans' use of time.

The BLS website provides a wealth of information on these surveys and programs; you should visit it often to keep informed about new BLS data and products. The Commissioner's Corner provides information on the many other areas in which BLS is involved and highlights our testimony before Congressional committees, public speeches by BLS leadership, awards and recognitions, and outstanding new products on the BLS website.

Erica L. Groshen
Commissioner
Bureau of Labor Statistics

2014

April 17, 2014

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.

April 11, 2014

It has been another busy week with interesting new BLS publications and products. One item I want to draw your attention to is a Monthly Labor Review article that examines the rise in women's share of nonfarm employment during the 2007–2009 recession. Back in January 1964, women held 31.7 percent of total nonfarm jobs. Women's employment has continued to expand over the past half century and accounted for an unprecedented 50.0 percent of all payroll jobs in the last month of the 2007–2009 recession. Women's share of payroll jobs held at that level for 11 consecutive months and then edged down; as of December 2013, however, that share was still high, at 49.5 percent. The author of the article, BLS economist Catherine Wood, examined trends in women's and men's employment during all previous recessions back to the 1969–1970 recession and found that men's employment always declined at a greater rate than women's employment. In fact, women's employment even continued to increase during some recessions, although that was not the case during the 2007–2009 recession. Nevertheless, job losses among men outnumbered those among women by 2.6 to 1 during the most recent recession.

BLS also published a new edition of Spotlight on Statistics this week that presents a series of graphics on trends in income and expenditures during and after the 2007–2009 recession. In 2011, average household income exceeded the 2008 level in nominal terms (that is, without adjusting for price inflation). Similarly, in 2012, average consumer expenditures exceeded 2008 levels. While average income and expenditure levels have returned to prerecession levels, the gains have been distributed unevenly across income quintiles. (Income quintiles are five equally sized groups of households that have been divided from lowest to highest according to their annual income.) Between 2008 and 2012, the highest income quintile accounted for more than 80 percent of the total increase in household income in the United States, while the expenditure increases of the highest income quintile accounted for almost half of the total spending gains across all five quintiles during the same time period.

Last October I highlighted the new BLS K–12 pages, which provide classroom activities, games, quizzes, and more to make learning economics and statistics fun. The pages also provide information to help students learn more about career options. I mentioned that new material would be added to these pages regularly. This week we added a new Chart Maker tool that offers students and teachers a fun way to create interactive line, column, and bar charts.

Finally, I want to mention that we posted new information this week about the fiscal year 2014 budget enacted for BLS. I announced in late February that BLS will curtail the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages and the International Price Program in order to achieve the necessary savings for the 2014 funding level and protect core BLS programs. Since that announcement, discussions have been initiated to explore alternative federal sources of funding to continue producing and publishing the International Price Program export price indexes. BLS will continue to produce and publish these indexes through the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. Once the discussions to explore alternative funding sources are concluded, an announcement will be made concerning how the necessary data will be produced to avoid any disruption to the calculation of real Gross Domestic Product, which relies on the export price data.

April 4, 2014

BLS released the March 2014 Employment Situation report this morning. Read my statement about the report to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. You also can watch the C-SPAN video of the hearing.

March 28, 2014

This week I want to draw your attention to two important new BLS Reports. One is about the characteristics of minimum wage workers in 2013. Among the 75.9 million U.S. workers age 16 and older in 2013 who were paid at hourly rates, 1.5 million earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. About 1.8 million had wages below the federal minimum. Together, these 3.3 million workers with wages at or below the federal minimum made up 4.3 percent of all hourly paid workers. This remains well below the figure of 13.4 percent in 1979, when data were first collected on a regular basis. The report is full of interesting information about the characteristics of workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage, including age, gender, race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, level of education, marital status, state of residence, full- and part-time status, occupation, and industry.

Another new BLS Report provides a profile of the working poor in 2012. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 46.5 million people, or 15.0 percent of the nation's population, lived below the official poverty level in 2012. Although the poor were primarily children and adults who had not participated in the labor force during the year, estimates from BLS show that 10.6 million individuals were among the “working poor” in 2012. The working poor are people who spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force (that is, working or looking for work) but whose incomes still fell below the official poverty level. In 2012, the working-poor rate—the ratio of the working poor to all individuals in the labor force for at least 27 weeks—was 7.1 percent, little different from the previous year's figure of 7.0 percent. The working-poor rate was still quite a bit higher than the rate of 5.1 percent in both 2006 and 2007, before the onset of the 2007–2009 recession. This report also is full of interesting information about the characteristics of the working poor and their families.

March 21, 2014

This week, BLS released a report on the labor market situation of our nation's military veterans in 2013. In 2013, 21.4 million men and women, or 9 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over, were veterans. Veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era accounted for nearly half (9.8 million) of the total veteran population in 2013. Over one quarter of veterans (6.1 million) served during Gulf War era I (August 1990 to August 2001) or Gulf War era II (September 2001 forward). Another quarter (5.5 million) served outside these wartime periods. The unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans edged down to 9.0 percent in 2013. The jobless rate for all veterans also edged down to 6.6 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Gulf War-era II veterans reported having a service-connected disability in August 2013, compared with 15 percent of all veterans. Of the disabled Gulf War-era II veterans, 70.5 percent were in the labor force in August 2013, compared with a labor force participation rate of 85.4 percent for veterans from this period with no service-connected disability. Among Gulf War-era II veterans, the unemployment rate of those with a disability was 8.6 percent, not statistically different from those with no disability.

Also this week, BLS published a new edition of Spotlight on Statistics that presents a series of graphics on injuries and illnesses among state and local government workers. These public-sector employees experienced a higher incidence rate of work-related injuries and illnesses than their private-industry counterparts. The total rate of injuries and illnesses in 2011 remained highest in local government workplaces, at 6.1 cases per 100 full-time workers, compared with 4.6 cases per 100 workers in state government and 3.5 cases in private industry. These differences can be attributed in part to different industry and occupational composition. For example, state and local government workers are more concentrated in healthcare and public safety jobs that have greater risk of work injury or illness. The rate of injuries and illnesses in police protection was 11.3 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2011, and the rate for fire protection was 13.5 cases.

March 7, 2014

BLS released the February 2014 Employment Situation report this morning. Read my statement about the report.

This week, President Obama presented to Congress his fiscal year 2015 budget request. The 2015 President's Budget proposes $610.1 million in funding for BLS for the fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2014. This request is an increase of $17.9 million over the funding we have received in fiscal year 2014. At this proposed funding level, no further reductions to BLS programs would be required. I'm also excited that the 2015 budget request includes resources for two new initiatives that, if funded, will enable BLS to fill two serious data gaps. The new initiatives include the addition of an annual supplement to the Current Population Survey to collect information relevant to labor force trends, including data on contingent work and alternative work arrangements, and workplace flexibility and work-family balance issues. The other initiative will modify the Consumer Expenditure Survey to support the U.S. Census Bureau in its development of a supplemental statistical poverty measure to complement the standard measure the Census Bureau has been producing since the 1960s. You can read more about the proposed budget for BLS.

February 28, 2014

In contrast to the usual BLS focus on paid employment (counting how many people are employed, their pay and benefits, and characteristics of workers and their jobs), this week we have a new BLS report about the important unpaid work that Americans do through volunteer activities. About 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013. The volunteer rate in 2013 was 25.4 percent, the lowest it has been since BLS began collecting comparable statistics about volunteers in 2002. Volunteers spent a median of 50 hours on volunteer activities from September 2012 to September 2013. Time spent on volunteer activities was similar for women and men. Among those who volunteered, median annual hours spent on volunteer activities ranged from a low of 36 hours for people 25 to 34 years old to a high of 86 hours for people age 65 and older.

In 2013, the organization for which the volunteer worked the most hours was most frequently religious (33.0 percent of all volunteers), followed by educational or youth service related (25.6 percent) and social or community service organizations (14.7 percent). Among volunteers with children under 18 years old, 44.5 percent of mothers and 38.3 percent of fathers volunteered mainly for an educational or youth service organization, such as a school or scouting group. Volunteers without children under age 18 were more likely than parents to volunteer for other types of organizations, such as social or community service organizations and religious organizations.

The activities that volunteers performed most frequently for their main organization were collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food (10.9 percent), fundraising (10.0 percent), and tutoring or teaching (9.8 percent). Men and women tended to engage in different main activities. Men who volunteered were most likely to engage in general labor (11.4 percent) or coach, referee, or supervise sports teams (9.9 percent). Women were most likely to collect, prepare, distribute, or serve food (12.5 percent), fundraise (11.5 percent), or tutor or teach (11.4 percent).

The daily feature The Editor's Desk includes some eye-catching interesting graphics on the characteristics of volunteers and their volunteer activities.

In closing, I want to mention that this week we posted a notice about the 2014 Budget Enacted for Bureau of Labor Statistics. In order to achieve the necessary savings for this funding level and protect core programs, the BLS will curtail the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages and the International Price Program. Through these measures, BLS will be able to preserve the quality of its remaining products.

February 21, 2014

I want to tell you about three things this week: A major advance in a BLS Principal Federal Economic Indicator and two analyses that showcase some of the breadth and relevance of the work of BLS.

First, I call your attention to the culmination of a challenging effort to reconfigure and broaden an important economic series so that it can adapt to structural changes in the economy. BLS reported this past Wednesday that the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand increased 0.2 percent from December 2013 to January 2014 and by 1.2 percent over the 12 months ended in January. This release was the first to present data using new methods to calculate the PPI estimates. The PPI has now transitioned from the Stage of Processing (SOP) to the Final Demand-Intermediate Demand (FD-ID) aggregation system. This new system is the result of a longstanding objective to improve the measures by incorporating indexes for services, construction, government purchases, and exports. In comparison to the SOP system, the FD-ID system more than doubles current PPI coverage of the U.S. economy to over 75 percent of in-scope domestic production. Final demand includes goods, services, and construction which are sold for personal consumption, capital investment, government purchases, and export. Intermediate demand includes goods, services, and maintenance and repair construction sold to businesses, excluding capital investment. You can learn more about the new PPI aggregation system from two articles published recently in the Monthly Labor Review:

BLS also published two very interesting new editions of Beyond the Numbers this week. One examines the persistence of a high unemployment rate in New York City during the recovery from the 2007–2009 recession. From the end of the recession in June 2009 to the end of 2012, the unemployment rate in New York City declined by only 0.6 percentage point, to 8.8 percent. This relatively small drop in the New York City unemployment rate occurred during a period of robust growth in payroll jobs in the city (up 6.2 percent). This article examines the behavior of New York City's unemployment rate from several perspectives.

The other edition of Beyond the Numbers published this week looks at the extent to which occupations are concentrated within industries. Some occupations are found in nearly every industry in the United States, while others are specific to one or only a few industries. Occupations concentrated in a single industry may require skills that are highly specific to that industry. If workers in these occupations become unemployed, it may be difficult for them to use their skills in other industries. However, workers in more widely distributed occupations may find it easier to transfer their skills in response to job loss. Occupational composition also may affect a growing industry's ability to attract workers from elsewhere in the economy. For example, industries that rely on specialized, highly qualified workers may find that the high skill and training requirements act as a barrier to entry for displaced workers from other sectors.

February 7, 2014

Having recently reached my first anniversary as Commissioner, it seems appropriate to share some thoughts on what I've learned about BLS in the past year. One thing I see every day is how hard BLS employees work to get the facts right about the U.S. labor market and economy. Before I came to BLS, I certainly knew how seriously BLS staff embrace our mission of being objective, timely, accurate, and relevant with our data, analyses, and services. As Commissioner, I can observe the staff's commitment to quality up close every day, and it's a pure pleasure to work with such dedicated professionals.

Another thing I have really come to understand this year is the very special bond BLS has with the American people. As users of BLS data, the American public expects us to get the facts right, to provide objective, relevant information in a timely manner so that individuals, businesses, and policymakers can make better-informed decisions. They also depend on us to be open and transparent in our methodology—so that all can understand exactly what our statistics mean. BLS could not meet these high expectations without the cooperation of the individuals, businesses, and organizations that provide data to BLS by participating in our surveys and programs. Nearly all BLS surveys and programs are voluntary—meaning individuals, businesses, and organizations do not have to participate if they choose not to. And yet they participate at extraordinarily high rates, helping to make our measures the most reliable available. The BLS staff and I are so grateful for that cooperation. We strive to make participation in our surveys and programs as easy as possible. We also have in place multiple layers of protection (legal and procedural) to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of survey participants. The enduring success of this special bond—the essence of BLS—depends on the trust the American people place in us, and this year has shown me just how energetically the BLS staff honors and works to uphold that trust.

As a prime example of continuing our mission to inform the public about the U.S. labor market and economy, BLS released the January 2014 Employment Situation report this morning. Read my statement about the report.

Also, let me call your attention to a new video about a BLS program. Tina Bartsch, who heads the BLS Division of Occupational Employment Projections, appeared on the "America by the Numbers" segment of C-SPAN's Washington Journal program last Friday. Ms. Bartsch spoke about the latest set of 10-year BLS projections of the U.S. labor market and economy out to 2022. Watch the video:


C-SPAN Washington Journal (January 31, 2014).

January 31, 2014

When BLS releases the January 2014 Producer Price Index (PPI) on February 19, we will begin using new methods of calculating the estimates. This shift will result in significant changes to the PPI news release and other data and documents available from the PPI program. The PPI will transition from the Stage of Processing (SOP) to the Final Demand-Intermediate Demand (FD-ID) aggregation system. The transition to the new system is the result of a longstanding objective to improve the measures by incorporating indexes for services, construction, government purchases, and exports. In comparison to the SOP system, the FD-ID system more than doubles current PPI coverage of the U.S. economy to over 75 percent of in-scope domestic production. The FD-ID system was introduced as a set of experimental indexes in January 2011. Nearly all new FD-ID goods, services, and construction indexes provide historical data back to either November 2009 or April 2010, while the indexes for goods that correspond with the historical SOP indexes go back to the 1970s or earlier.

These are exciting and important improvements to the measurement of price changes in our economy. Here are links to two articles published this week in the Monthly Labor Review that discuss the new PPI in depth:

I am also pleased to note that Jean Fox, a research psychologist in the BLS Office of Survey Methods Research, was recognized recently by the online publication FierceGovernment for her innovative work on conducting superior surveys that measure user experience. Jean co-chairs the government's User Experience Community and has been a long-time advocate for user experience—the behaviors and attitudes about using a particular product. You can read more about Jean's great work at BLS and her mentorship of people in other federal agencies.

January 17, 2014

This week I want to draw your attention to a series of articles published in the Monthly Labor Review over the past several months on occupational safety and health. The BLS Occupational Safety and Health Statistics (OSHS) program held a data users' workshop in Washington, DC, on May 15–16, 2013. The gathering coincided with the 40th anniversary of the OSHS program. The speakers and participants included data users and researchers in the health and safety community within government, private industry, labor, and academia. Safety and health professionals also presented research papers. We began publishing these papers in the Monthly Labor Review in October 2013. Four papers have been published so far, and two more will be published soon. Here is the list of those articles:

January 10, 2014

BLS released the December 2013 Employment Situation report this morning. Read my statement about the report to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. Watch the video: C-SPAN Congressional Chronicle: December 2013 Employment Report (January 10, 2014).

January 8, 2014

Today BLS released the 2014–2015 edition of the information-packed Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). The OOH is a searchable career guide that covers more than 300 occupations. The OOH is widely used by students, jobseekers, people who are considering changing careers, and career guidance professionals. Each occupational profile in the OOH describes what people in the occupation do, what their work environment is like, what kind of education, training, and work experience they need to perform the job, and how much they earn. Each profile also tells you the 2012 employment level in the occupation and how that employment level is expected to change by 2022, both in the total number of jobs and in percentage terms. Each profile also includes links to profiles for similar occupations, as well as links to organizations that can provide more information about the occupation.

To provide one example, one of the occupations among those BLS projects to add the largest number of jobs between 2012 and 2022 is registered nurses. From the OOH profile for registered nurses, we learn that they provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members. Registered nurses work in hospitals, physicians' offices, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, schools, the military, and correctional facilities. Registered nurses usually take one of three education paths: a bachelor's degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses must also be licensed. The 2012 median pay for registered nurses was $65,470 per year or $31.48 per hour. There were about 2.7 million registered nurses working in the United States in 2012, and that number is expected to grow by about half a million, or more than 19 percent, by 2022.

This week's publication of the new OOH follows the December 2013 publication of a related series of Monthly Labor Review articles on the latest set of long-term projections from BLS about the U.S. labor market over the 2012–2022 period. Here is the list of those articles:

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