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Five new editions of Beyond the Numbers

Friday, 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.