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BLS History


Ewan Clague

August 1946–September 1965

Ewan ClagueAppointed by: Harry Truman
Also served under: Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson

Ewan Clague, born in Prescott, Washington in 1896, was the sixth Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner. His education included the University of Washington and, after serving as an ambulance driver in World War I, the University of Wisconsin. Clague's teacher, John R. Commons, recommended him to Commissioner Ethelbert Stewart, who hired Clague in 1926 to help develop productivity indexes. After finishing his project at the Bureau, Clague moved on to several other jobs, including working at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, studying the effects of mill closures for the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University, and serving as director of research and professor of social research at the Pennsylvania School of Social Work. In 1936, he was hired as Associate Director of Research and Statistics of the new Social Security Board, and was subsequently promoted to Director. In 1940, he became Director of the Bureau of Employment Security. When Clague was appointed Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1946, he came to the office as a trained economist and experienced civil servant.

Under Clague, the Bureau continued to consolidate duplicate work by separate agencies. In 1945, the Bureau began a national employment series for all 50 States. With budget cuts in 1947, State agencies began completing the compilations, with BLS providing technical guidance and funding. At the same time, the Census Bureau was compiling a monthly survey of the labor force through a survey of households. These two surveys differed in concept and method, thus causing confusion in the public. BLS sought to gain control over the employment data, and finally in 1959, BLS and the Census Bureau agreed to an exchange. BLS would take over responsibility for financing, analyzing, and publishing results from the Census household survey, and the Census Bureau would gain control over the BLS housing and construction activity surveys.

Clague also addressed the confidentiality of Bureau statistics. In an effort to prevent early release of data, in 1961, the Department of Labor began issuing the release dates for monthly data a year in advance. As unemployment rose to nearly 7 percent in 1961, BLS figures gained even greater attention. A Reader's Digest article in the same year accused the Bureau of exaggerating the figures to build support for legislative agenda. In response, President Kennedy established the President's Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics under the chairmanship of Robert A. Gordon of the University of California. The Gordon Committee report, Measuring Employment and Unemployment, came out in 1962 and, while praising the Bureau for publishing release dates in advance, it also offered suggested improvements to several surveys. Following these recommendations, in 1963, the Current Population Survey was updated to refine information concerning family relationships and availability for part-time work. Also, the decision was made that Bureau professionals would only release figures and administration officials would make separate political statements.

Another recommendation by the Gordon Committee was for BLS to collect job vacancy statistics. In 1964, the President gave approval for a series of pilot surveys on job vacancies in 20 labor market areas. BLS, the Bureau of Employment Security, and State agencies cooperated to conduct the surveys, and although Congress did not approve expansion, BLS continued the experimental program and explored additional techniques.

Meanwhile, the composition of the labor force was changing, and Secretary Mitchell encouraged researching it. In 1955, the Department published "Our Manpower Future, 1955–1965" and "Manpower: Challenge of the Sixties" came out in 1960. The Bureau issued School and Early Employment Experiences of Youth and updated and expanded Employment and Economic Status of Older Men and Women. BLS also pursued studies in job mobility, the secondary labor force, labor surplus areas, and plant closings, and began publishing data on educational attainment, marital and family characteristics of workers, and multiple jobholders. Other labor force studies included two projections of military manpower requirements, several surveys of personnel resources in the sciences, and an annual canvass of scientific and technical personnel.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) underwent changes after the war when BLS adjusted weights and components, revised calculations of food prices, and conducted special weekly telegraphic surveys of food prices for prompt release. Budget cuts in 1947, though, resulted in the elimination of some cities and items and a reduced frequency of pricing. Just 2 years later, Congress approved funding for a major revision of the CPI. The revised CPI would not be introduced until 1953. Changes included a modernized market basket, an increased number of items, and expanded coverage to include small urban places. The Bureau also began to measure all items connected with acquisition and operation of a home and calculated a housing index.

The late 1950s, with shifting demographic and buying patterns, brought criticisms of the CPI. The Bureau of the Budget sponsored a comprehensive review of Government price statistics by a committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research. In the new CPI index issued in March 1964, the Bureau utilized some of the committee's ideas, increasing population coverage to include single-person families, establishing probability sampling techniques, developing a system to measure sampling error, and creating a division of price and index number research.

In 1948, BLS published "Workers' Budgets in the United States", a report on the living costs of workers in large cities and the differences between cities. The budget was printed until 1951, when BLS discontinued it because of obsolete goods and quantities. In 1959, Congress gave BLS permission to update the standard budget, and in 1966, a new and greatly expanded series began with City Worker's Family Budget.

Clague oversaw the production of three measures of price movements in primary markets-the comprehensive monthly index, a weekly estimate of trends in the monthly series, and a daily commodity index. The Wholesale Price Index was completely revised in 1952, with the commodity series more than doubling and the base period shifting from 1926 to an average of 1947-49. In 1961, the Stigler Committee issued a report criticizing the Wholesale Price Index as not having a clearly defined universe. Using the Committee's recommendations, the Bureau began developing a time series of industry prices.

Industry studies were severely reduced after 1947 budget cuts, and restructuring produced two types of surveys: the industry surveys and a new series of community or area surveys. In 1959, the Bureau enlarged the wage program to cover 50 manufacturing and 20 nonmanufacturing industries in the industry series, and the area program expanded from 20 major labor markets to 80 areas. In 1960, BLS used the 80-area survey design to conduct a survey of professional, managerial, and clerical occupations, which was used as a basis for comparing the pay of Federal and private sector employees. The Bureau also provided blue-collar wages for other Federal agencies.

Clague resumed the Bureau's work on productivity indexes for selected industries, with the first indexes for the manufacturing sector as a whole published in 1955. In 1959, the Bureau published indexes for the total private economy. The Bureau's productivity data were used by the Council of Economic Advisers in 1962 to set wage and price guideposts listed in its annual report to the President. The Bureau also performed studies examining unit labor costs at home and abroad and the effects on collective bargaining and employment and studied the effects of automation and technological change.

Another accomplishment under Clague's tenure was the expansion of the annual series of injury-frequency and injury-severity measures covering manufacturing and nonmanufacturing injuries. During the late 1940s, the Bureau worked with the European Recovery Program to plan and conduct a number of productivity studies and gave technical assistance to European governments for developing their own economic statistics. About 80 European labor statisticians took 3-month courses with BLS from 1950-51. In 1962, the Bureau joined with other Government agencies and private organizations for the analysis and projection of economic growth trends; in late 1966, the Bureau published the 1970 projections of demand, interindustry relationships, and employment.

Clague retired from office on September 14, 1965, during his fifth term as Commissioner. Senator William Proxmire, a member of the Joint Economic Committee, noted that Clague's "19 immensely productive years" showed "steady improvement in quality and the constantly more accurate and detailed picture of our economy." After retirement, Clague first served as a consultant to Secretary Wirtz and later conducted and published research studies on labor force subjects.

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Last Modified Date: June 13, 2012