Article

July 2015

Comparison of U.S. and international labor turnover statistics

To help mark the Monthly Labor Review’s centennial, the editors invited several producers and users of BLS data to take a look back at the last 100 years. This installment of the anniversary series comes from the Bureau's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) program. JOLTS produces labor demand data on job openings, hires, and separations in the United States. The first section of this article provides a brief overview of the JOLTS program. The second section examines the availability and definitions of labor demand data from other countries. Analyses of countries with comparable data are discussed in the final section.

Overview of labor demand data at BLS

Since 1999, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has produced job openings and labor turnover data in order to assess the unmet demand for workers in the labor market. The JOLTS program measures job openings, hires, and separations on a monthly basis by industry and geographic region.1 The program gauges labor demand by collecting data each month from a sample of approximately 16,000 nonfarm business establishments. JOLTS labor demand data complements labor supply data with information on current labor demand, providing a valuable resource for data users to examine factors that reflect the health of the U.S. economy. Labor demand data are used to examine churn in the labor force, labor demand versus labor supply, business cycles, and trends by industry and geographic region.

Prior to the inception of the current JOLTS program, a federal–state cooperative BLS program called the Labor Turnover Survey (LTS) published turnover data from 1959 to 1981. Questions on job vacancies were added to the LTS in 1969. BLS produced vacancy rates from 1969 through 1973 for nine selected manufacturing industries and in selected states and metropolitan areas.2 While limited to the manufacturing sector, historical LTS statistics were used for labor market analysis and research. Layoff, accession, and quit rates were regarded as leading economic indicators.3 Additionally, the job vacancies series was considered a coincident indicator. Accession rates were used by state agencies to compare, by area, the number of employees placed through the agencies with the total number of hires reported by employers.4

International labor demand data

A measure of labor demand is necessary for thorough analysis of the labor market and as a complement to labor supply measures. There are many countries that produce various types of labor demand data. Although definitions of data elements differ across countries, the purpose is to garner information about the status of labor demand within individual economies. Labor market churn (movement to and from employment through hires and separations), as well as the relationship between job openings (labor demand) and unemployment (labor supply), can provide valuable information about an economy.

Comprehensive appendices at the end of this article list the statistical organization, survey name, data elements collected, and frequency of the respective surveys. Appendix 1 includes countries not part of the European Union (EU) that produce labor demand data, and appendix 2 lists countries that are members of, or closely associated with, the European Union. The EU countries, along with Norway and the Republic of Macedonia, are listed separately in appendix 2. All of these countries provide job vacancies to the EU which are centrally available on the Eurostat website. This information was primarily compiled from statistical websites and correspondence.

Job openings data

Table 1 presents definitions of job openings for seven non-EU countries. The definitions contain similar elements, including the timeframe that the job opening is available, the presence of active recruitment by employers to fill the vacancy, and a specification that the recruited employee be from outside the establishment.

Notes

1 The JOLTS program follows the North American Industrial Classification System. The term “industry” can refer to a supersector, sector, or subsector, depending on the context. Census region descriptions can be viewed at http://www.bls.gov/eag/.

2 Job openings are also commonly referred to as job vacancies. While the JOLTS program uses the term job openings, the historical Labor Turnover Program used the term job vacancy. Both terms are used in this article depending upon the term used by the country being discussed.

3 Hires are commonly referred to as accessions. While the JOLTS program uses the term hires, the historical Labor Turnover Program used the term accession. Both of these terms, plus other terms determined by each country, are used in this article depending upon the country being discussed.

4 For more information, see Katherine Bauer “Examination of state-level labor turnover data,” Monthly Labor Review, January 2014, http://stats.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/examination-of-state-level-labor-turnover-survey-data.htm.

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About the Author

Katherine Bauer
bauer.katherine@bls.gov

Katherine Bauer is an economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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