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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

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General questions:
  1. What Principal Federal Economic Indicators (PFEIs) are published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics?
  2. What local data are available?
  3. Does BLS offer analysis of current trends beyond its regularly scheduled press releases?
Technical questions:
  1. What is seasonal adjustment?
  2. What are preliminary data?
  3. Does BLS publish a measure of underemployment?
  4. What source is used in calculating the U.S. unemployment rate?
  5. What are the basic concepts of CPS (household) employment and unemployment?
  6. How does data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) program differ from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program?
  7. How does data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program differ from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program?
  8. Are Current Employment Statistics (CES) Estimates revised? If so, how?
  9. Does BLS project future labor shortages or surpluses?
  10. Does BLS have employment projections for states or local areas?
  11. What constitutes a mass layoff?
  12. What is the difference between the CPI-U and the CPI-W?
  13. Is the CPI a cost-of-living index?
  14. Can the CPIs for individual areas be used to compare living costs among the areas?
  15. What is a consumer unit?
  16. What are the U.S. Import and U.S. Export price indexes?
  17. Does BLS publish data that compare the U.S. labor market to those of other countries around the world?
  18. How does the Bureau define productivity?
  19. Is there a survey which shows wages and benefits as a part of compensation?

What Principal Federal Economic Indicators (PFEIs) are published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Consumer Price Index, Employment Cost Index, The Employment Situation (which includes the unemployment rate and payroll employment), Producer Price Indexes, Productivity and Costs, Real Earnings, U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes

What local data are available?

While some BLS data are only available at the national level, there is great deal of data available at the State, metro area and county levels. Use the tool at http://www.bls.gov/guide/geography/ to get a full breakdown of which data are available at what geographic levels.

Does BLS offer analysis of current trends beyond its regularly scheduled press releases?

The Editor's Desk is an online feature that highlights recent trends using a chart and several paragraphs of text. Data are usually pulled from recent publications, such as press releases, articles and reports. This feature is updated each business day.

More in-depth analysis can be found in articles in the Monthly Labor Review and Compensation and Working Conditions (CWC) Online.

Several times a year, the BLS also publishes its Spotlight on Statistics, focusing on holidays or other special topics.

What is seasonal adjustment?

Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that attempts to remove data fluctuations attributable to predictable changes that normally occur at the same time and in about the same magnitude every year – such as weather, holidays, school openings and closings, and production and business cycles. As a result, seasonally adjusted data are usually preferred for analyzing non-seasonal, month-to-month, and general trends in the economy apart from normal seasonal changes. Unadjusted data are of primary interest to those concerned about the actual estimates of economic indicators reflecting what is happening right now. Unadjusted data also are used extensively for escalation purposes. For more information on seasonal adjustment for selected Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys please see:

What are preliminary data?

Many preliminary BLS series are eventually revised based on additional information that was not available at the time of the initial publication of the estimates.

Does BLS publish a measure of underemployment?

Because of the difficulty of developing an objective set of criteria which could be readily used in a monthly household survey, no official government statistics are available on the total number of persons who might be viewed as underemployed. Even if many or most could be identified, it would still be difficult to quantify the loss to the economy of such underemployment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does publish alternative measures of labor underutilization. For data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) on alternative measures of labor underutilizations including discouraged workers and marginally attached workers see:

What source is used in calculating the U.S. unemployment rate?

Because unemployment insurance records, which many people think are the source of total unemployment data, relate only to persons who have applied for such benefits, and since it is impractical to actually count every unemployed person each month, the Government conducts a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment in the country. The CPS has been conducted in the United States every month since 1940 when it began as a Work Projects Administration project. It has been expanded and modified several times since then. For more details relating to the U.S. unemployment rate visit http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_faq.htm.

What are the basic concepts of CPS (household) employment and unemployment?

The basic concepts involved in identifying the employed and unemployed are quite simple:

How does data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) program differ from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program?

There are two basic concepts involved in discussing employment and unemployment—total employment as measured by the number of positions currently filled and alternatively as a measure of people who have jobs. The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of households (or people). The household survey produces estimates on the labor force, the employed, the unemployed, the unemployment rate and demographic information on the employed and unemployed. The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program is a monthly survey of business establishments (or positions). The CES produces estimates on the number of employees on nonfarm payrolls, average hourly earnings, average weekly earnings, and average weekly hours. For more information on the differences between the CPS and the CES surveys see: http://www.bls.gov/web/ces_cps_trends.pdf.

The scope concerning exactly what types of jobs and people are included in the BLS counts can be found in the Concepts section of the following links:

How does data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program differ from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program?

The QCEW program is a census of Unemployment Insurance (UI) data reported on nonagricultural industries, and additionally includes government workers and partial information on agricultural industries and employees in private households. CES employment figures are calculated from data received from the payroll records of a sample of nonagricultural employers, and are benchmarked each year in part using data from the QCEW program. Both programs use the pay period including the 12th of the month as the reference period for employment.

QCEW wages include total compensation paid during the calendar quarter to workers receiving pay or who worked during the reference period; CES hours and earnings data are reported for production or non-supervisory workers in private industry who receive pay for work during any part of the pay period including the reference period.

More information on the differences between the QCEW, CES and Business Employment Dynamics (BED) establishment-based employment programs is available at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cewqtr.tn.htm.

Additional information on the CES survey is located at http://www.bls.gov/bls/empsitquickguide.htm#payroll. For additional information on the QCEW survey visit http://www.bls.gov/cew/cewover.htm.

Are Current Employment Statistics (CES) Estimates revised? If so, how?

Yes, estimates are revised in the following manner:

Preliminary-to-Final Estimates

Initial monthly estimates are calculated from an incomplete sample and are subject to revision in the two subsequent months after initial release, when more sample data are available.

Final-to-Benchmark Estimates

"Final" estimates are subject to annual benchmarks of universe counts of employment derived from the unemployment insurance (UI) reports from employers.

Details of CES data revisions may be viewed at: http://www.bls.gov/ces/cesregrevtec.htm.

Does BLS project future labor shortages or surpluses?

No. Attempts by some to ascribe shortages or surpluses to our projections are based on an incorrect comparison of the total employment and total labor force projections, two separate and fundamentally different measures. The total employment projection is a count of jobs and the labor force projection is a count of individuals. Users of these data should not assume that the difference between the projected increase in the labor force and the projected increase in employment implies a labor shortage or surplus. The BLS projections assume a labor market in equilibrium, i.e., one where labor supply meets labor demand except for some degree of frictional unemployment.

For a discussion of the basic projection methodology, see "An overview of BLS projections to 2016," James C. Franklin, November 2007 Monthly Labor Review.

For a discussion of labor shortages in the context of long-term projection models, see "Employment projections to 2012: concepts and context," Michael W. Horrigan, February 2004 Monthly Labor Review.

Does BLS have employment projections for states or local areas?

No. BLS prepares employment projections only for the Nation as a whole. Projections of industry and occupational employment are prepared by each State, using input from the BLS National projections. State projections may be viewed at http://www.projectionscentral.com/.

What constitutes a mass layoff?

A mass layoff occurs when at least 50 initial claims are filed against an establishment during a consecutive 5-week period. An extended mass layoff occurs when at least 50 initial claims are filed against an establishment during a consecutive 5-week period and at least 50 workers have been separated from jobs for more than 30 days. For more information on the differences between mass layoffs and extended mass layoffs see: http://www.bls.gov/mls/peoplebox.htm#Q03

What is the difference between the CPI-U and the CPI-W?

The CPI-U is a more general index and seeks to track retail prices as they affect all urban consumers. It encompasses about 87 percent of the United States' population.

The CPI-W is a more specialized index and seeks to track retail prices as they affect urban hourly wage earners and clerical workers. It encompasses about 32 percent of the United States' population and is a subset of the CPI-U group.

The CPI-W places a slightly higher weight on food, apparel, transportation, and other goods and services. It places a slightly lower weight on housing, medical care, and recreation.

The CPI-W is utilized by the Social Security Administration to determine annual rates of increase. See http://www.bls.gov/bls/peoplebox11.htm.

Is the CPI a cost-of-living index?

The CPI frequently is called a cost-of-living index, but it differs in important ways from a complete cost-of-living measure. BLS has for some time used a cost-of-living framework in making practical decisions about questions that arise in constructing the CPI. A cost-of-living index is a conceptual measurement goal, however, not a straightforward alternative to the CPI. A cost-of-living index would measure changes over time in the amount that consumers need to spend to reach a certain utility level or standard of living. Both the CPI and a cost-of-living index would reflect changes in the prices of goods and services, such as food and clothing that are directly purchased in the marketplace; but a complete cost-of-living index would go beyond this to also take into account changes in other governmental or environmental factors that affect consumers' well-being. It is very difficult to determine the proper treatment of public goods, such as safety and education, and other broad concerns, such as health, water quality, and crime that would constitute a complete cost-of-living framework. See http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpifaq.htm#Question_4

Can the CPIs for individual areas be used to compare living costs among the areas?

No, an individual area index measures how much prices have changed over a specific period in that particular area; it does not show whether prices or living costs are higher or lower in that area relative to another. In general, the composition of the market basket and relative prices of goods and services in the market basket during the expenditure base period varies substantially across areas.

What is a consumer unit?

A consumer unit consists of any of the following: (1) All members of a particular household who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangements; (2) a person living alone or sharing a household with others or living as a roomer in a private home or lodging house or in permanent living quarters in a hotel or motel, but who is financially independent; or (3) two or more persons living together who use their incomes to make joint expenditure decisions. Financial independence is determined by spending behavior with regard to the three major expense categories: Housing, food, and other living expenses. To be considered financially independent, the respondent must provide at least two of the three major expenditure categories, either entirely or in part.

The terms consumer unit, family, and household are often used interchangeably for convenience. However, the proper technical term for purposes of the Consumer Expenditure Survey is consumer unit. For more Consumer Expenditure Survey definitions, see http://www.bls.gov/cex/csxgloss.htm

What are the U.S. Import and U.S. Export price indexes?

The U.S. Import and U.S. Export Price Indexes measure the change over time in the prices of goods or services purchased from abroad by U.S. residents (imports) or sold to foreign buyers by U.S. residents (exports). Although import and export transaction prices are used to calculate the indexes, the International Price Program (IPP) does not publish price information or any information that might allow prices to be inferred. For further information on import and export price indexes and how they are used, view the frequently asked questions section of the homepage at http://www.bls.gov/mxp.

Does BLS publish data that compare the U.S. labor market to those of other countries around the world?

Since 1960, the BLS Division of International Labor Comparisons (ILC) has adjusted selected labor market data of foreign countries to improve their comparability with U.S. data. Showcasing data from the ILC program and other sources, A Chartbook of International Labor Comparisons is a gateway to explore how key labor market and other national economic measurements compare across countries. These comparisons help to gauge trends and to provide government officials and citizens worldwide the opportunity to learn from each other. For more information and other international labor comparisons data, visit http://www.bls.gov/ilc.

How does the Bureau define productivity?

Productivity is a ratio relating output to one or more of the inputs associated with producing that output. An increase in output per unit of input is an increase in productivity. The most common productivity measure is labor productivity, which relates output to employment or labor hours. BLS has been publishing international comparisons of manufacturing labor productivity, as measured by output (value added) per hour worked, for many years.

There are multifactor productivity measures as well, where output is related to two or more inputs. A more inclusive productivity measure, used by BLS to compare component manufacturing industries within the United States, relates output, measured as gross output, to combined capital, labor, energy, material, and business services inputs (collectively identified by the acronym KLEMS).

For more information visit the Frequently Asked Questions sections of the productivity and costs home page and the multifactor productivity home page.

Is there a survey which shows wages and benefits as a part of compensation?

Yes. The Employer Cost for Employee Compensation (ECEC) program provides the average cost per hour worked that employers pay for wages and salaries, plus the cost for benefits. Total compensation consists of wages and salaries plus benefits. These data are available on the Employment Cost Trends (ECT) homepage. Click on links in the News Release section of the ECT homepage for these data.

Last Modified Date: March 30, 2011

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