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President’s 2016 budget would expand labor market data

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A few weeks ago President Obama presented his fiscal year 2016 budget request to Congress. That budget proposes $632.7 million in funding for BLS, an increase of $40.5 million over our fiscal year 2015 funding. The 2016 budget proposes new funding to help BLS meet some important data needs. I asked Mike Horrigan, the Associate Commissioner for Employment and Unemployment Statistics, to explain how we plan to use the proposed funding to improve our understanding of labor markets.

The President’s 2016 budget asks Congress for funding that would expand our data on the flows into and out of employment. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) provides monthly national measures on labor demand by industry and firm size. These measures complement the unemployment rate, which measures labor supply. JOLTS is the only BLS survey that measures current demand in the labor market. We publish a monthly report that shows the levels and rates for job openings, hires, and separations. The report also presents information on three types of separations: quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations. BLS currently publishes national and regional JOLTS data 5 to 6 weeks after we collect the data. A growing number of our customers from federal and state agencies, research organizations, and elsewhere have asked us for more detailed and timely JOLTS data.

The new funding would improve the JOLTS program in three ways:

  1. It would make the data available sooner. We would publish JOLTS data when we publish The Employment Situation each month.
  2. It would make the data more accurate and relevant. We would be able to publish more industry detail and new information for states and by establishment size.
  3. It would make the survey deeper and more agile. We could add questions on labor market issues to strengthen our understanding of openings, hires, and separations.

In our dynamic economy, conditions can change rapidly. Better information on the demand for labor can provide an early warning of downturns or signal improvement ahead. Over the longer term, more information about labor demand may help us predict trends in the wages and skills of jobs created and destroyed.

The President’s 2016 budget also asks for funding to add questions each year to the Current Population Survey. The survey provides high-quality estimates each month about employment, unemployment, worker characteristics, and other topics. The survey can’t provide information on some important groups, such as temporary workers, without more funding.

To fill this gap, we would add questions to the survey one month each year. In odd-numbered years, the survey would ask questions about workers in temporary jobs. These questions would explore important topics, such as what types of workers are most likely to have temporary jobs and how temporary employment has changed.

In even-numbered years, the survey would ask questions on other labor market topics. For example, we plan to ask questions about work schedules, including flexible work schedules, shift work, and working at home. These questions would provide insight on workplace flexibility and work-family balance for women and men of different occupations, ages, family types, and race and ethnic groups. These questions also would help us study how flexible work arrangements affect earnings.

With this new funding, we also could develop new questions on emerging topics, such as entrepreneurship. This information would improve our understanding of new trends and developments in the labor market.