Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The Labor Department in The Carter Administration: A Summary Report — January 14, 1981 By Ray Marshall

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

We have worked hard driving the last four years to strengthen the quality and credibility of our labor statistics, which are becoming more important not only for information, planning and program evaluation, but also for the allocation of public funds and indexation in collective bargaining contracts and other public and private purposes.

The major accomplishments of BLS during the Carter Administration included a thoroughgoing review of labor force statistics by a Presidential commission, completion of a comprehensive revision of the Consumer Price Index, and expansion and improvement of several other economic measures produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Bureau published two consumer price indexes in January 1978: (1) An updated version of the traditional CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers and (2) a new CPI for All Urban Consumers.

The all urban CPI represented a significant increase in the coverage of the noninstitutional civilian population — to about 80 percent — and is designed to meet the need for an index with broad coverage arising from increased use of the CPI in economic policy formulation and as an escalator of income payments. It covers several groups historically excluded from the traditional CPI. The revision program allows for additional geographic detail and updated consumption weights, as well as improvements in timeliness, design and collection.

Two other program improvements were initiated in the consumer price area. A Continuing Consumer Expenditure Survey provided the basis for future updating or revision of the CPI or the Family Budget programs and in addition, will provide a previously unavailable source of data on consumer expenditures. To meet criticisms of the homeownership component, the Bureau in January 1980 published five alternative, experimental measures.

In 1979, a nine member National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics issued a detailed examination of the Nation's labor force statistics, finding the statistics generally sound but recommending a number of improvements.

The Bureau expanded major revisions in the Industrial Price Program, basing improvements in the Producer Price Index on stage-of-processing analysis, and emphasizing transaction prices. Weights were revised, pilot surveys completed, updated indexes for 28 industries were being published, and measures for some 120 industries were being developed.

During 1980, the Bureau expanded its Employment Cost Index to measure relative changes in total compensation (wages and salaries plus employee benefits). Under development for several years, the expanded index will eventually cover State and local government workers as well as the farming and household sectors.

In the area of occupational safety and health statistics, the Bureau introduced two major initiatives, even while greatly reducing the reporting burden on employers. In the Supplementary Data System, some 36 states cooperated to supply information on injuries and illnesses based on workers' compensation records, thereby supplementing the annual survey by providing data on a number of personal and occupational factors. The Work Injury Report, meanwhile gathers information directly from employees injured in specific types of accidents being studied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Over the last four years, the Bureau has developed productivity measurements for 35 additional industries so that its productivity measures represent about 30 percent of the private nonfarm business sector.

In the International Price Program, indexes now cover around 60 percent of the value of exports and 40 percent of the value of imports, and an expansion program will bring both to around 80 percent in 1983. The Bureau also conducted special analyses of imports from Japan and export trade with OPEC countries for the use of U.S. negotiations and policymakers.

In the field of economic projections, the Bureau continued to develop regular biennial projections of the labor force, industrial employment, and the outlook for specific occupations. The Bureau published and was revising its employment projections to 1990.

Finally, the high professional standards and independence of BLS has been strengthened. We have scrupulously avoided any effort to interfere with the Bureau's independence. This is absolutely essential if users are to have confidence in the Bureau's statistics. We were fortunate to be able to maintain leadership continuity from the previous Administration because of the fact that Julius Shiskin, a very able Commissioner, was reappointed, and after his death, we appointed his deputy, Dr. Janet Norwood, to succeed him. After a thorough search, we concluded that Dr. Norwood was the very best person for the job.