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 more than two dozen 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
Bureau of Labor Statistics
May 24, 2013
I was interviewed recently for the “On Leadership” blog of The Washington Post. Tom Fox of the Partnership for Public Service asked me about the importance of our work at BLS and the value of the data we produce for policymakers, businesses, and households to make better-informed decisions. Tom and I also discussed the great importance I place on exchanging ideas with different audiences, both inside and outside BLS. Tom asked about my goals for BLS and the opportunities and challenges we face, such as collecting and understanding data in an increasingly complex global economy and providing high-quality data and services with fewer budgetary resources.
This week BLS published a news release on the labor force characteristics of the foreign born in 2012. There were 25.0 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force in 2012, comprising 16.1 percent of the total labor force. In 2012, the labor force participation rate of the foreign born was 66.3 percent, compared with 63.2 percent for the native born.
May 17, 2013
This has been a busy week for BLS publications, with five new editions of Beyond the Numbers. The first edition looks at how steadily growing global demand for grain crops has generated higher crop prices and increased demand for fertilizers, particularly imported fertilizers. This article looks at the complex and interesting interactions among grain production and prices, natural gas production and prices, and the production of fertilizers and their domestic and import prices.
Trends in natural gas prices were the focus of the second edition of Beyond the Numbers this week. Specifically the article examines how the application of horizontal hydraulic fracturing—commonly called fracking—in shale rock formations has boosted U.S. production of natural gas and has contributed to a 57-percent decline in producer prices for natural gas from 2007 to 2012.
The third edition of Beyond the Numbers this week examines the methods used in the Consumer Price Index to estimate the cost of shelter services for owner-occupied housing. Estimating the cost of housing is complex because a house is a capital asset that provides a flow of services over a substantial period of time, not just a one-time consumption item. Starting in January 1983 the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers began using a "rental equivalence" approach to estimate housing costs. This method measures the rate of change in the amount a homeowner would need to pay to rent a similar house on the open market. It is based on actual market rents collected from a sample of renter-occupied housing units that are identified to represent owner-occupied housing. The article discusses this and other changes in the methods used to estimate housing costs over the past 30 years.
The compensation of workers in the trade, transportation, and utilities industries was the focus of another edition of Beyond the Numbers. These industries employed 25.6 million workers in 2012: 14.9 million in retail trade, 5.6 million in wholesale trade, 4.4 million in transportation and warehousing, and 0.6 million in the utilities industries. The article looks at wages and employee benefits in these industries. Private industry compensation costs for trade, transportation, and utilities workers averaged $24.31 per hour worked in December 2012. Wages and salaries averaged $17.12 per hour and benefits averaged $7.19. Employer compensation costs for trade, transportation, and utilities workers vary quite a bit by industry. Costs fluctuate for a number of reasons such as part-time and full-time status, job skills, and union representation. In December 2012, total compensation costs per employee hour worked ranged from $17.64 for workers in retail trade to $59.26 for workers in utilities.
Finally, for pet lovers we have an article that examines how much you spend on your pets. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. households own pets. There are about 218 million pets in the United States, not counting several million fish. Pet ownership crosses many demographic boundaries, with Americans of different ages and levels of wealth reporting spending on pets. Americans spent approximately $61.4 billion in total for the care and feeding of their pets in 2011. On average, each U.S. household spent just over $500 on pets. This amounts to about 1 percent of total spending per year for the average household.
May 10, 2013
This week at BLS we held one of our twice-yearly meetings with our Data Users Advisory Committee. The Committee advises BLS from the points of view of data users from various sectors of the U.S. economy, including the labor, business, research, academic, and government communities. Committee members provide important feedback about the analysis, dissemination, and uses of BLS data and published reports and on the need for new statistics. Before I became BLS Commissioner, I was a member of this Committee, and I was very glad that BLS solicits advice from data users. Now that I am Commissioner, I have an even greater appreciation for the Committee’s advice. This week’s meeting featured discussions about the new Occupational Requirements Survey, the presentation of geographic data, BLS outreach activities to various customer groups, and a new approach to developing and presenting occupational replacement needs in BLS employment projections.
Also this week, BLS published a new edition of Spotlight on Statistics on international comparisons of economic measures. These measures include gross domestic product, unemployment rates, compensation costs, labor productivity rates, and consumer prices. This Spotlight on Statistics compares these and other measures across countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific to get a glimpse of how individual economies have performed in recent years and historically.
All of us at BLS are very proud that BLS Research Statistician Polly Phipps was recently elected as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association. This very high honor recognizes Polly's service to the statistics profession and her outstanding research contributions to BLS in the study of survey error and corresponding improvements to the accuracy of survey and administrative data. This is a rare honor awarded by the association to no more than one-third of one percent of its members in a given year.
Finally this week, the career website The Muse included profiles of three Department of Labor employees, including Jay McDaniel of BLS.
May 3, 2013
Here is a link to my statement on the April employment situation news release.
BLS also recently published a new edition of Beyond the Numbers. The article examined employment and wage changes over the 2007–2011 period in oil-producing counties in the Bakken Formation. The Bakken Formation is an oil-producing shale formation underneath North Dakota, Montana, and parts of Canada. In recent years, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques, combined with higher prices for crude oil, have led to rapid increases in oil extraction from shale formations like the Bakken Formation. The large increase in oil production has led to growth in employment and wages and has changed the industry profile of employment in the region.
The April issue of the Monthly Labor Review also was published this week. It features a “visual essay” of graphics about people with a disability in 2012. The issue also includes an article on differences in union and nonunion compensation from 2001 to 2011. Another article examined trends in consumer spending over the 3 decades from 1980 to 2009, with a focus on the asset boom of 1997–2007. Finally, the April MLR includes a report about the annual Consumer Expenditure Survey Microdata Users’ Workshop that was held at BLS in July 2012.
April 26, 2013
This week BLS published a news release examining barriers to employment, types of assistance, and other issues for people with a disability. Our monthly Employment Situation report provides information on the employment status of people with and without disabilities. This week's release provides more detailed information gathered in May 2012 about several specific topics related to employment of people with disabilities. In May 2012, about 28.3 million men and women in the civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over had a disability. Persons with a disability tend to be older than those with no disability, reflecting the increased incidence of disability with age. Half of all persons with a disability who were not working in May 2012 reported some type of barrier to employment. When asked to identify barriers they had encountered, most reported that their own disability was a barrier to employment (80.5 percent). Other barriers cited included lack of education or training (14.1 percent), lack of transportation (11.7 percent), and the need for special features at the job (10.3 percent).
Among employed people with a disability, over half had some difficulty completing their work duties because of their disability. About 27.8 percent reported a little difficulty in completing work duties, 21.1 percent reported moderate difficulty, and 7.0 percent reported severe difficulty. About 44.1 percent of employed persons with a disability had no difficulty completing their current work duties. The news release also provides information on career-assistance and financial-assistance programs in which disabled people have participated, requested changes in the workplace to accommodate disabilities, and commuting to work, working at home, and flexible work hours among employed people with disabilities.
April 19, 2013
In response to increased interest in the measures used for cost of living adjustments, I testified about the methods BLS uses to calculate our family of Consumer Price Indexes on Thursday, April 18, before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security. We will post video of the hearing when it becomes available, but you can read my statement (PDF).
Update, April 23: The video of the hearing can be seen here, on the Library of Congress THOMAS website. (We suggest starting the video at about the 16-minute mark.) http://thomas.loc.gov/video/house-committee/hswm/31624699.
April 12, 2013
On April 6, I participated in a panel discussion at the 50th Annual Conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. I discussed the challenges for a statistical agency to produce high-quality, relevant data in a fast-paced, data-rich environment. I noted some of these challenges are leveraging administrative or "big" data to supplement current survey efforts, maintaining response rates in BLS surveys, and meeting customers' demands for new and improved products. I also discussed some of the efforts that BLS is making to stay relevant to our customers, such as the BLS Twitter feed.
In the past week BLS published two new editions of Beyond the Numbers. The first examined employment-based health benefits in small and large private establishments. Over 95 percent of private sector business establishments in the United States employed fewer than 50 workers in the first quarter of 2011. Establishments that employed 500 workers or more accounted for less than half of 1 percent of all private workplaces. The smaller establishments employed 47.3 million workers (45 percent of all private industry employment), while the largest establishments employed about 17.5 million workers (16.5 percent of private industry employment). Thirty-eight percent of workers in establishments with fewer than 50 workers were covered by medical care benefits in March 2012, compared with 68 percent of workers in establishments with 500 workers or more. The report further examined variations by establishment size in employers' cost for medical coverage, the types of medical services covered by plans, and coverage for dental and vision benefits.
The second edition of Beyond the Numbers published this week is about careers in the growing field of information technology services. The report summarized historical employment trends in the industry and projections for the future. The report also examined the different types of jobs available in the industry, how much they pay, and what type of education or training is needed for such jobs.
April 5, 2013
Here is a link to my statement on the March employment situation news release.
March 29, 2013
Back in June 2012, BLS published a news release with information on establishments that used Green Technologies and Practices. These technologies and practices include those that improve the establishment's energy efficiency, reduce or eliminate the creation of waste materials that result from operations, conserve natural resources, or reduce pollutants. The June 2012 release found that about three-quarters of business establishments reported the use of at least one green technology or practice during August 2011. This week BLS published a new edition of Beyond the Numbers that delved further into the data to examine the extent to which establishments used combinations of green technologies or practices. The report found that about two-thirds of businesses that used any green technologies and practices used more than one type. The report also examined the combinations of green technologies and practices that were most prevalent.
Also this week, BLS published a midyear update of consumer expenditures. This news release found that average expenditures per consumer unit for July 2011 through June 2012 were 1.9 percent higher than the 2011 annual average. All major components of household spending except apparel increased over the 12 months ending in June 2012 compared to the 2011 annual average. BLS previously published only an annual news release on consumer expenditures. This week's release contains the first midyear update of information on consumer expenditures and covers the last 6 months of 2011 and the first 6 months of 2012.
The March issue of the Monthly Labor Review also was published this week. It features two articles that summarize 2012 trends in employment and unemployment in the United States from the monthly surveys of nonfarm establishments and households. The issue also includes articles on changes in state unemployment insurance legislation in 2012, restricted work following a workplace injury, and seasonal adjustment in the Employment Cost Index.
March 22, 2013
There were 2.6 million Americans in the civilian population in 2012 who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001. We refer to this group as Gulf War-era II veterans. It is essential to understand how these veterans and veterans from earlier periods are faring in the civilian labor market. This week, BLS published a news release on the employment situation of U.S. military veterans in 2012. This release adds to the normal information about veterans and nonveterans that we report each month in the Employment Situation. In particular, the release provides more detailed information about the employment status of veterans with service-connected disabilities, those who were members of the Reserves or National Guard, and those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The release also features more detail about the demographic characteristics, educational attainment, occupations, and industries of veterans. The feature The Editor's Desk includes an interactive chart showing unemployment rates for veterans and nonveterans from 2008 to 2012.
Also this week, BLS published a news release on employment associated with the production of Green Goods and Services in 2011. Green Goods and Services jobs are found in businesses or government entities that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. In 2011 there were 3.4 million Green Goods and Services jobs, or 2.6 percent of total employment. Both the number and percent of jobs were up slightly from 2010. The release provides additional detail on the industries and states where Green Goods and Services jobs are found.
March 15, 2013
Have you been wondering how recent productivity growth has varied by industry and how these trends relate to recent changes in hours worked, employment, prices, or compensation in the industries? Wonder no more, because this week BLS published a new edition of Spotlight on Statistics that examines industry labor productivity trends from 2000 to 2010. The Spotlight features charts and analysis of trends in how efficiently labor is used in the production of goods and services. Labor productivity rose for most industries during the first decade of the millennium. From 2000 to 2007, productivity growth averaged between 0 and 4 percent per year in most of the industries studied. During the recessionary period from 2007 to 2009, productivity declined in over half of the industries studied. Subsequently, many industries recorded very large increases in productivity from 2009 to 2010, the first year of the recovery.
The productivity growth over the decade was fueled by the expansion of information technology. Productivity grew most rapidly in the information sector, while the manufacturing, retail trade, and wholesale trade sectors also had notable productivity increases. Productivity declined slightly in other services and more rapidly in the mining sector.
March 8, 2013
Here is a link to my statement on the February employment situation news release.
In addition, you may be interested in the announced steps BLS is taking in response to the sequestration.
March 1, 2013
This week BLS published two new editions of Beyond the Numbers. The first examined expenditures of urban and rural households in 2011. The report compared the demographic characteristics, income, and spending patterns of people who live in urban and rural areas. Urban households spent 28 percent more on food away from home but 5 percent less on food at home than rural households. Rural households spent only slightly more on health care than urban households, but rural households spent a larger portion of their total expenditures on health care.
The second edition of Beyond the Numbers compared average food prices in 2013 with those in 1913. The article examined prices for bread, eggs, milk, meats, sugar, and other food items. The feature The Editor's Desk includes a chart showing how much prices for different food items advanced over the century. Potatoes were among the cheapest food items in 1913 and still are today, but potato prices have increased 39-fold over the century, the sharpest rate of increase among the items tracked. Egg prices have increased the least, up about 5-fold in the last century, as advances in production, delivery, and storage techniques have outpaced those seen for most other food items.
The February issue of the Monthly Labor Review also was published this week. It features articles on recent college graduates in the U.S. labor force, fatal occupational injuries among Hispanics and Latinos, and state labor legislation enacted in 2012.
February 19, 2013
My first day as Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics was Tuesday, January 29. It is an honor to lead BLS at this time of renewed interest in the labor market and in the statistics that help us understand it. Personally, I will say it is a labor economist's dream to head an agency that produces the information on this important aspect of people's lives—including their jobs and job changes, pay, working conditions, time use, prices paid and so much more.
Building on my predecessors' and BLS colleagues' work, I plan to continue the BLS tradition of excellence in informing the country on relevant and timely issues in labor statistics. I look forward to helping guide BLS as it adapts to a changing environment, develops new products that answer questions relevant to our 21st century economy, and delivers the highest quality data and analysis in the most effective way to the public and our diverse users.
Please stay tuned to the Commissioner's Corner for updates from me on some of the most recent BLS products and activities.
John M. Galvin was Acting Commissioner from January 2012 to January 2013.
January 25, 2013
This week BLS published a news release on union membership in 2012. The release presents information on the number of union members and membership rates by demographic group, occupation, industry, and U.S. state. The release also presents information on the weekly earnings of union members and nonmembers who work full time. The feature The Editor's Desk includes charts showing trends in union membership.
The BLS Occupational Employment Statistics program recently posted a series of new interactive charts and maps on occupational employment and wages in the United States.
Finally this week BLS published a new article that examines careers in biofuels.
January 4, 2013
Here is a link to Acting Commissioner Galvin's statement on the December employment situation news release.
Last Modified Date: May 24, 2013