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BLS History


Isador Lubin

July 1933–January 1946

Isador LubinAppointed by: Franklin Roosevelt
Also served under: Harry Truman

Isador Lubin was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1896. His father, a Lithuanian immigrant, owned a retail clothing business, at which Isador worked part-time during his later high school years and his college years. He attended Clark College in Worcester, an institution which, interestingly enough, had Carroll Wright, the first Commissioner of Labor, as its first president early in the 20th century. Upon graduating in only 3 years in 1916, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Missouri. Although he was on a fellowship in sociology, Lubin did most of his course work under the famous economist Thorstein Veblen.

Lubin's first job was with the Food Administration, where he prepared studies on food production and farm labor problems. In his second job, with the War Industries Board's Price Section, he analyzed commodity price fluctuations and the effects of Government-imposed price floors and ceilings. After a brief stint as an instructor in economics at the University of Michigan, he took a teaching and research position with the new Institute of Economics (later the Brookings Institution). In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Brookings gave him assignments that involved working closely with Senators Robert Lafollette of Wisconsin, Robert Wagner of New York, and Edward Costigan of Colorado on legislation involving employment. For example, during 1931 Lubin worked with Wagner on legislative efforts to secure unemployment insurance and with LaFollette on the Senator's famous investigation of the depression and possible remedies for it, including the question of economic planning. Isador also assisted in hearings on a bill that called for expanded monthly reports on employment by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which, after the hearings, was enacted immediately.

Frances Perkins, the newly-appointed Secretary of Labor in the incoming Roosevelt administration and the first-ever woman Cabinet member, appointed Lubin in 1933 to be the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, making him the fifth person to occupy the office. She did so because of her confidence that Lubin regarded statistics as more than just numbers, but representations of the struggles of actual people as well.

Lubin's views of government mirrored those of his appointing President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He saw minimum wage and maximum hour laws as necessary for workers to maintain a decent standard of living under humane working conditions. He believed events had demonstrated that government leadership and participation were required to meet violent economic dislocations, whether in peace or in war, since private enterprise did not adapt well to such dislocations.

Economic stability, Lubin believed, necessitated increasing the national income and raising the standard of living, and he continually argued for programs that would expand production and increase the general purchasing power. As an essential factor in achieving these goals, he urged the adoption of national economic planning. A strong supporter of protections for labor, he urged their inclusion in Section 7(a) of the National Industrial Recovery Act, fought for their enforcement, and tried in vain to have these extended to agricultural workers. As one of the chief participants in the development of the unemployment insurance section of the Social Security Act of 1935, he argued for a thoroughgoing national system and was dissatisfied with the emergent Federal-State plan. Lubin thus believed that through the agency of the Federal Government, the economic system could be stabilized and the industrial system humanized.

Upon assuming office, Lubin began immediately to work with Secretary Perkins on making improvements to the Department's statistical program. This resulted in a statement from Perkins in mid-1934 that the Department's statistical work "is perhaps better than at any time during its history and represents the best technical standards, as to method, coverage, and interpretation.4" Lubin and Perkins also worked with members of other Federal statistical agencies on the coordination of statistical work; this resulted in the establishment of a Central Statistical Board, on which Lubin served as vice-chairman.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) was created in 1919 as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. Congressional rejection of the treaty kept the United States out of the organization for many years. However, Secretary Perkins and Lubin began early in their terms to promote U.S. membership in the ILO and led to the Nation's entry in August of 1934. Lubin became the first U.S. delegate to its governing body.

Numerous changes, system upgrades, and new initiatives occurred during Lubin's time in office. In 1933 average hourly earnings and average weekly hours by industry and for total manufacturing were published for the first time. In 1935 the Bureau established the Machine Tabulation Division to centralize data processing. In 1940 BLS introduced a revised cost-of-living index that began to be released monthly. Also, during Lubin's tenure, BLS began occupational outlook work and estimates of employment by State, the latter coming in 1945 when he was Commissioner by title only. Lubin played a leading role in the organization of the Temporary National Economic Committee's investigation into industrial monopolies, for which the Bureau conducted several special studies.

In June 1940, Secretary Perkins gave Lubin a new assignment as economic adviser to Sidney Hillman, the head of the Labor Division of the National Defense Advisory Commission. Lubin retained his position as Commissioner, but A. Ford Hinrichs became the Acting Commissioner and remained so until Lubin's resignation from Government service in 1946. Lubin worked in several different positions, both with the Government and with private enterprise, for the next 20 plus years, including serving as an economic consultant to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He died in 1978 at the age of 82.

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Last Modified Date: June 13, 2012