ASA/NSF/BLS Fellowship Possible Research Topics

    General Information

    BLS is the principal fact-finding agency for the Federal Government in the broad field of labor economics and statistics. We are responsible for the development and publication of data on employment and unemployment, prices and living conditions, compensation and working conditions, productivity measurement, and economic growth and employment projections.

    Fellows have a unique opportunity to make major advances in methodology and applications in a number of areas. Some sample topics are listed below. However, applicants are encouraged to propose studies in any socioeconomic or methodological areas that are applicable to BLS data or have the potential of encouraging further significant broad-based research.

    See the main Fellowship page for more information on eligibility and application requirements.

    Statistical Methodology and Computing

    Proposals in this area should be for research projects generally applicable to the collection, processing, or analysis of BLS data.

    Statistical Quality Control

    BLS is continuing to strengthen our quality control program. Of special interest is the development of additional techniques for assessing the quality of data obtained from establishment surveys. Some areas for research include:

    • Integrated overall error models, with provisions for estimating magnitudes and interrelationships of various error sources
    • Methods of adapting evolutionary operations techniques to BLS operations
    • Effective patterns of quality control feedback, training, and incentives applicable to establishment surveys
    • The redesign of management information systems to incorporate process performance and data quality monitors
    • Development and measurement of proxy variables for estimating components of nonsampling error

    Item Imputation

    Diversity in the types of BLS surveys provides a wide variety of missing-data problems. Some examples are:

    • Longitudinal imputation techniques for establishment surveys where units remain in the sample for 4 to 5 years
    • Multivariate imputation techniques for surveys like the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which collects data on all sources of income, all types of expenditures, and household demographics.
    • Multiple imputation techniques for computing employment and wages from sampled establishments for various BLS surveys.

    Small Domain Estimation

    Demand is continuously growing in survey programs for estimates for domains where the corresponding sample size is insufficient to produce standard design-based estimates of sufficient accuracy. Consequently, model-based or model-assisted estimators are needed. BLS programs such as the National Compensation Survey program are interested in producing small domain estimates.

    Time Series Methods

    Recent years have seen broad advances in the field of time series modeling, but BLS is interested in further development of these methods and their application. BLS has a broad array of monthly and quarterly time series for study and testing. Topics of particular interest include:

    • Application of model-based seasonal adjustment methods
    • Estimation of standard errors for seasonally adjusted estimates, particularly from complex surveys
    • Treatment of outliers in time series modeling and seasonal adjustment
    • Multivariate time series modeling
    • Survey estimation incorporating time series methods

    Statistical Methods for Data Analysis

    Inference based upon data from complex sample surveys is a broad area of research. Examples are:

    • Analysis of longitudinally linked data sets from continuing surveys
    • Graphical analysis techniques
    • Analysis of sample and administrative data sets
    • Complex survey applications of nonparaametric regression and other computationally intensive statistical methods
    • Area-based statistics

    Statistical Graphics and Data Visualization

    BLS publishes large volumes of economic data on employment, wages, and prices. Research is needed in the following areas:

    • Improved ways of graphically presenting cross-sectional and time series data that are normally published in tables
    • Graphical methods to detect outliers in high-dimensional and massive data sets
    • Approaches that visually convey the uncertainty in predictions and estimates
    • Graphical techniques to dynamically explore BLS data spatially
    • Tools that allow users to do interactive analyses through the BLS public Internet site as well as our Intranet.

    Disclosure Limitation / Confidentiality Protection

    BLS is also interested in a wide range methods for disclosure limitation/confidentiality protection. Examples include:

    • Masking of microdata in public-use datasets
    • Construction of partially or fully synthetic datasets
    • General evaluation of disclosure risk and/or data utility in disclosure-limitation settings

    Information Dissemination

    BLS provides public access to micro-, macro-, and metadata via the Internet. Research is needed on:

    • Improving the ‘user friendliness’ of BLS data-dissemination web sites
    • Explaining simple and complex statistical concepts to the diverse audiences that visit BLS data-dissemination web sites
    • Improving the presentation of statistical information through the use of graphics
    • Providing tools that facilitate data analysis

    Economic Measurement and Research

    Proposals under this topic would include theoretical or empirical studies designed to improve BLS statistical programs. Research could focus on defining and refining the concepts to be measured or could analyze a variety of topics relating to labor markets, prices, and productivity.

    Measurement of Labor Force Characteristics

    Accuracy in measuring unemployment depends upon the ability to make meaningful distinctions between the various labor force concepts. Areas of possible research include:

    • The adjustment of flows between labor force categories for rotation group effects
    • Measurement error in respondent classification into labor force and demographic categories
    • Topics related to the comparative labor market situation of various groups of workers at a point in time or over time
    • Comparing Current Population Survey (CPS) estimates to estimates in other data sources and exploring reasons for differences, such as differences in hours of work or types of workers

    Measurement and Analysis of Labor Cost

    A number of BLS establishment surveys collect data on wages and other employee compensation. The Employment Cost Index (ECI) measures the rate of change in total compensation, which includes wages, salaries, and employers' cost of employee benefits. However, additional research is needed to develop strategies on how to best measure and report the impact on labor cost from transitory changes in compensation policy. For example, in recessions, employers take temporary measures such as furloughs and suspension of employer retirement contributions to reduce labor costs. Another possible topic is identifying the measurement framework that is most appropriate for lumpy employment costs such as year-end bonuses.

    Time Use

    Since 2003, the American Time Use Survey has collected detailed information about how respondents spend their time. This survey provides an opportunity for methodologists to propose reliability and validity studies. The data also provide a rich source of information useful for economic, psychological, and sociological research. Studies that could be conducted might include, but are not limited to:

    • Analysis and valuation of unpaid work, to provide a more comprehensive picture of aggregate economic output, consumption, growth, productivity, and technological change
    • Comparisons of time spent in paid work activities reported through the time diary and other labor-force surveys
    • Examinations of the amount of time spent waiting for various services
    • Assessments of the quality of life in the United States, such as an examination of leisure time or time spent with others
    • Re-analysis of poverty to include details about home production and leisure activities
    • Analyses of data on eldercare, including the time eldercare providers spend providing care and types of care activities
    • Changes in time use
    • Business cycle effects on time use
    • Analyses using ATUS module data on:
      • Individuals’ affective experiences (2010 Well-being module)
      • Eating and health patterns (2006-08 Eating and Health modules)
      • Workers’ access to leave (2011 Leave module)

    Incidence of Injuries and Illnesses

    The BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) measures the incidence of OSHA-recordable injuries and illnesses via an annual establishment survey. Recent research demonstrates that the survey likely undercounts the total number of workplace injuries and illnesses. This conclusion is based on matching SOII microdata to other case data (particularly workers’ compensation data) and applying capture-recapture analysis. Research in this area might explore matching data sets for numerous years to analyze any trends in undercounting over time by industry or injury type, or the effects of administrative changes in recordkeeping rules for the data sets. Alternatively, research might explore whether certain factors affect OSHA recordkeeping practices, such as safety incentive programs, competitive contracting based in part on recordable incident rates, unionization, or the use of third-party administrators, for example.

    Productivity Research

    Productivity-related research includes:

    • Factors affecting productivity change, such as investments in research and development
    • Issues affecting the measurement of productivity
    • Industry studies to explain productivity growth
    • Cross-industry comparisons of productivity growth
    • International comparisons of productivity growth.

    Price Measurement

    A number of long-standing problems in price measurement would be suitable topics for research. They include:

    • Pricing of consumer financial services
    • Treatment of style and quality changes
    • Measurement of prices for the consumption of services derived from consumer durables
    • An in-depth analysis of measurement problems and potential biases for a specific component of a price index (e.g. medical services, electronics, or housing)

    Measurement of Consumer Expenditures

    The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) program consists of two surveys—the Quarterly Interview survey and the Diary survey—that provide information on the buying habits, income, and demographic characteristics of American households. Proposals under this topic would include theoretical or empirical studies designed to improve the measurement of consumer expenditures. Research could focus on methods for reducing total survey error, as well as on more specific areas, such as optimal reference periods, improving diary methods, analyzing mode effects, or understanding cognitive factors associated with expenditure reporting. More analytic inquiries such as examinations of the joint distribution of income, expenditures, and net worth as well as joint distributions of income and expenditures are also of interest.

    Output Definition

    The need to define output arises in the development of BLS data on producer prices (the unit of output to be priced must be specified) and on productivity (labor productivity is defined as output per employee hour). Although there is some difficulty in defining output for goods-producing industries, the problems of defining output for many of the service-producing industries are particularly complex.

    Behavioral Sciences

    Application of Behavioral Sciences to Survey Design

    Behavioral science research approaches have been used to better understand psychological, sociological, and anthropological factors in the survey data collection process. For example, respondent motivation, comprehension, retrieval, and response processes have all been found to affect the quality of survey data. Research could be conducted in a field setting or utilizing the BLS Behavioral Science Research Laboratory which includes a fully equipped usability lab as well as general purpose research and observation rooms, audio and video recording capabilities, and facilities for running computer-administered experiments.

    Research topics relevant to BLS might include:

    • Respondent-interviewer interaction
    • Autobiographical memory and everyday cognition
    • Research on human-computer interaction related to data collection, analysis, and dissemination, including issues associated with accessibility and Section 508 compliance


    Last Modified Date: December 9, 2013