Appointed by: Richard Nixon
Also served under: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter
Julius Shiskin was the ninth U.S. Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Shiskin had a varied and remarkable public service career. One lasting impact of his leadership is certain to be his insistence on forthrightness and candor in describing data, including their defects and limitations, as the best way to build credibility as well as good statistics.
A graduate of Rutgers University (B.S. and M.A. degrees), he did further graduate work at Columbia University. He was an instructor in economics and statistics at Rutgers (1934-38), a staff assistant at the National Bureau of Economic Research (1938-42), head economist of the planning division of the War Production Board (1942-45), Chief Economic Statistician and Assistant Director of the Bureau of the Census (1945-69), Chief Statistician of the Office of Management and Budget (1969-73), and Commissioner of Labor Statistics from August 1973 until 1978.
Shiskin served under three Presidents and four Secretaries of Labor. He laid the groundwork for a continuing consumer expenditure survey-a break with the tradition of decennial surveys-which would permit orderly and efficient revision at regular intervals of the market basket of goods and services which underlies the index. In 1976, BLS started the first comprehensive revision of the Wholesale Price Index by surveying index users to determine their needs and their views of shortcomings in the measure. The Bureau had reweighted the index in January 1976, but wanted a "general price index" that would be broadly based and more accurate, utilizing probability sampling. The new system consisted of four major components: industry output price indexes, detailed commodity price indexes, stage-of-processing price indexes, and industry input price indexes. In 1978, to emphasize that the index was a measure of change in selling prices received by producers at the level of the first significant commercial transaction of the United States, the Bureau renamed the index from Wholesale to Producer Price Index.
The Bureau continued to introduce new producer price indexes, with the goal of covering all 493 industries in the mining and manufacturing sectors. Shiskin expanded unemployment and employment statistics to include an array of unemployment rates and the employment-population ratio-innovations intended to increase the usefulness of the employment statistics to policymakers and analysts. He presided over the inauguration of new statistical series on occupational injury and illness, wage and benefit costs, international prices, and government productivity. He also initiated an ongoing revision of the Producer Price Index, scheduled for completion in 1984. Another innovative contribution was his interpretation and analysis of the employment price and related data for Government officials, the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress, and the electronic and print media.
Shiskin followed a policy of openness and full discussion of the Bureau's data and methods. Faced with charges of inadequacies in the unemployment data, he campaigned for a national commission to conduct a comprehensive review of employment and unemployment statistics, and he appeared before the Joint Economic Committee almost every month to provide the opportunity for questions about the Bureau's latest figures. He was closely associated with the establishment and funding of the program of continuing consumer expenditure studies. During his tenure, the Federal Government Productivity Measurement Program was authorized on a continuing basis (1973), U1-U7 of unemployment measures first appeared (1975), the Bureau adopted the third generation computer system (1975), and the Bureau published the initial Employment Cost Index as a measure of change in the price of purchased labor services (1976).
His interest in ideas and innovation contributed to the many honors given him: Department of Commerce Silver Medal (1954), Rockefeller Public Service Award (1956); Fellow, American Statistical Association (1961); Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (1962); Department of Commerce Gold Medal (1963); Elected Member of the International Statistical Institute (1969); Honorary Fellow, National Association of Business Economists (1977), among others.
Shiskin's success in improving the data and in maintaining the credibility of the Bureau was reflected in the support for his renomination in 1977. With his reappointment by President Carter, Shiskin became the first Commissioner since Clague to start a second term. Finally, in 1978, Shiskin spearheaded the Bureau's issue of the revised CPI series, the new CPI-U for all urban consumers and the traditional CPI-W for wage-earners and clerical workers. After a long period of illness, Shiskin died in office in October 1978.
To honor the memory of Julius Shiskin, the Washington Statistical Society established an award to be given periodically to individuals making outstanding achievements in the field of economic statistics.
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Last Modified Date: June 13, 2012