—With this issue the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor begins the publication of its Monthly Review.
With those words, published 100 years ago, the Monthly Labor Review (MLR, the Review)—originally called the Monthly Review—came into existence. Today, this journal is the oldest continuously published periodical of the U.S. government. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is commemorating that milestone with a yearlong celebration on the MLR website. This article is just one of dozens of articles, essays, and excerpts that will look back at BLS, its programs, and its products, and look forward toward changes in the nature of work and in the information available about employment, prices, compensation, productivity, workplace safety, and a host of other issues. Among the topics to be featured in this centennial celebration are the following:
The material that follows takes a look back at the first issue of the Monthly Review, seeking parallels between the BLS of that bygone time and the BLS of today. Certain themes were prominent in 1915: war was raging in Europe, concerns about safe working conditions were just beginning to take hold, labor unions were growing in prominence, and waves of immigrants were coming to America. Some of these themes have parallels in 2015, and BLS continues to explore a number of them. Other themes have been replaced with new ones.
The Monthly Review will be from henceforth the medium through which the Bureau of Labor Statistics will publish the results of original investigations too brief for bulletin purposes, notices of labor legislation by the States or by Congress, and Federal court decisions affecting labor, which from their importance should be given attention before they could ordinarily appear in the bulletins devoted to these subjects. Through the Monthly Review the Bureau of Labor Statistics will deal with such news items of labor as may officially come to its notice. Attention will be given to the current work of this bureau, the other bureaus of the Department of Labor, or any other Government agencies dealing directly with labor matters.
A review of the events of 1915 highlights some of the important issues of the day. The war was under way in Germany, Belgium, France, Russia, and elsewhere. In May, the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland, killing nearly 1,200 civilians. At the box office, Americans watched Charlie Chaplin in The Tramp.
In the fall of 1915, the Red Sox beat the Phillies in the World Series, 4 games to 1. Ty Cobb led all hitters, with a .369 average. Home runs were hard to come by; Braggo Roth led the American League with seven. But in a signal of changes to come, Babe Ruth hit his first home run.
Also marking a centennial in 2015 are singers Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, actors Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn, and economist Paul Samuelson. It was against this backdrop that the Monthly Review began.
Today, the topics covered by BLS statistical programs fall into five broad categories: employment and unemployment; prices and spending; compensation; occupational safety and health; and productivity. Within these areas, the details can vary widely, from projecting occupational employment 10 years from now, to tracking the cost of imports by country of origin, to identifying whether employer health benefits are available to domestic partners. Today’s MLR covers all these topics and more. Recent topics include international comparisons of labor turnover statistics1 and how BLS import and export prices are used in calculating gross domestic product.2 The MLR also reports on work done outside of BLS and by non-BLS authors; some topics even go beyond the current scope of BLS programs. Recent examples include reports on the relationship between healthcare reform and self-employment3 and the impact of left- v right-handedness on future earnings.4
In the introductory material to the first issue of the Monthly Review, BLS similarly identified a list of labor-related topics within its purview, some of which mirror today’s topics and some of which are much different:
An attempt will be made to keep in touch with the more important current movements and methods of reporting of industrial accidents and occupational or industrial diseases and for the prevention of these; to report industrial and vocational surveys, the better housing of workingmen, and any other activities, public or private, that have for their object the betterment of industrial conditions. Summaries of sickness and out-of-work or old-age benefit funds maintained by large employing corporations, national trade-unions, etc., will receive attention. It is hoped that through the Monthly Review the Bureau of Labor Statistics can come in closer touch with current labor activities and by means of this publication give wider publicity and deeper significance to such activities.
The remaining sections of this article will explore a few topics that were addressed in the periodical in 1915 and that have some counterparts today.
From its start, the MLR provided regular updates on developments in labor law, often at the state level:
Investigation of the administration of labor laws in the various States has for its purpose the securing of detailed information in regard to the powers and duties of the various State agencies having to do with the administration of any of the labor laws, the way in which these agencies are organized, their methods of work, and what they are accomplishing. In studying this question the labor laws will be considered in the broadest sense, including the enforcement of labor laws, the making of labor investigations, the administration of public employment offices, the work of minimum wage commissions and of workmen’s compensation commissions.
In 1915, the Monthly Review examined changes in labor law in several states and territories, including Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippine Islands. Advancements in labor law in the states and territories often serve as precursors to federal legislation or to their broader adoption across the states and territories. For example, the first issue of the Monthly Review reported that “Eight States and the Territories of Alaska and Hawaii have been added to the list of those having workmen’s compensation laws….The result of this year’s additions is that 31 States…now have such laws….”
In another example, years before the Fair Labor Standards Act established nationwide standards for a minimum wage, hours, overtime, child labor, and related topics in 1938,5 the 1915 Review identified a number of new or expanded state laws in these areas. Several of these laws related to work in “street trades,” apparently a common term of the day referring to jobs involving selling on the streets.6 Other state labor standards reported in the initial Review included establishing 14 as the minimum age for industrial employment in Alabama, setting an 8-hour day for placer miners in Alaska, and forbidding night work for women under age 18 in Arkansas.
One hundred years later, laws covering labor standards, workers’ compensation (referred to in 1915 as workmen’s compensation), and other labor issues are widespread. Nonetheless, the MLR continues to track developments in state labor laws. A current example is the requirement that employers provide paid sick leave to employees. Although federal legislation on this issue has been introduced but not enacted,7 several states have acted. For example, Oregon recently passed a law that requires certain employers to begin providing paid sick leave in 2016.8
Periodic MLR articles look at changes in state labor laws. In July 2014, the MLR reported on recent changes in federal and state unemployment insurance legislation, including this change in coverage in Idaho:
The definition of “employment” exempts service performed as an election official or election worker including, but not limited to, a poll worker, an election judge, an election clerk, or any other member of an election board, if the amount of remuneration that the individual received during the calendar year for services as an election official or election worker is less than $1,000.9
The first issue of the Monthly Review included a detailed table of “legislation regulating the employment of women, 16 years of age and over” as of January 1, 1915. The introduction to the table indicates that some of the legislation was new, enacted during the previous year. It is unclear how long other legislation had been in place, nor does the table indicate which regulations apply to men. Following are some examples gleaned from the table and intended to highlight areas of focus in 1915 that have changed in 2015:
In contrast, today’s MLR reports, not on different standards imposed on women in the labor force, but rather on the growth of women in all types of jobs. In October 2014, the MLR featured an article on female self-employment, reporting that women represented about one-third of all self-employed individuals in 2012.10
According to the first issue of the Monthly Review, “statistics of strikes and lockouts in the United States covering the period from 1881 to 1905, inclusive, have been the subject of four annual reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, published in 1887, 1894, 1901, and 1906.” This information dates to before BLS was established in 1884. The Monthly Review goes on to say that “data for these years were secured by the investigations of trained field agents” but that data for 1914, also published in the Review, were compiled from printed sources: newspapers, labor journals, trade-union periodicals, manufacturers, trade papers, and other sources. The article discusses the complexities of collecting those data and the potential limitations due to the change in data collection method. This is an example of the emphasis that BLS has always placed on transparency when it comes to methods and limitations: while it is important to make data available to the public, it is equally important to ensure that the public understands the quality and limitations of the data. Today, the MLR regularly includes articles that discuss the methodology and limitations of BLS statistics, such as a recent article tracing methodological changes in the Consumer Price Index over time.11
As the first Monthly Review indicates, data on strikes and lockouts have been captured and presented periodically by BLS since the late 1800s and have often been featured in the MLR. The current program, known as the Work Stoppages program, compiles and reports monthly data on the number of work stoppages, using information from the disputing parties and other sources in a manner similar to that described in 1915.12 Articles detailing certain work stoppages, such as those involving large numbers of workers or lasting for extended periods, are frequently included in the MLR,13 which also has featured articles on certain sports-related work stoppages, many times by outside authors who provide insight beyond that available through the BLS Work Stoppages program. Examples include articles on the football strike in 1987 and the hockey lockout of 2012–2013.14
The 1915 article reports 1,080 strikes and lockouts in 1914. Referring to these events in total as “disturbances,” the analysis indicates that 979 were strikes and 101 were lockouts. This assessment is followed by the disclaimer “It was sometimes difficult to determine from the printed accounts whether the disturbance should be classed as a strike or lockout.” The issue continues today, but BLS now uses the more neutral phrase “work stoppages” to avoid identifying which party initiated the stoppage.
The first issue of the Monthly Review also included a short summary of strikes and lockouts in other countries. Of particular note are data from “Germany, during the war”:
Since the outbreak of the war to the end of March, 2015, according to the report of the imperial office of labor statistics there occurred 52 labor disputes directly involving 4,029 workmen; the total employed force in the establishments involved was, however, 10,218.
Although BLS was established by Congress in 1884, it was one of many agencies combined into the new Department of Labor established in 1913—2 years before the first Monthly Review was published. In the first issue was some discussion of other agencies joining the Department of Labor, including the Bureau of Immigration and its Division of Information. One article in that first issue discussed the work of the Division, part of which was “to promote the beneficial distribution of aliens admitted into the United States among the several States and Territories desiring immigration.” Once incorporated into the Department of Labor, the Division focused on identifying available jobs and tracking hiring. Figure 1 shows some of the data on immigrant hiring presented in the first Monthly Review for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1914.
Today, various agencies of the Department of Labor have programs that promote hiring, including programs that review U.S. employer requests to hire foreign workers.15 BLS data are often used to inform decisions on job availability for all workers, including immigrants. The following data are illustrative:
Also available is information on today’s immigrants, including their labor force characteristics and fatal work injury statistics. In 2014, there were 25.7 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force, making up 16.5 percent of the total U.S. labor force. Hispanics accounted for 48.3 percent of the foreign-born labor force, and Asians accounted for 24.1 percent.16
Foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations and less likely to be employed in management, professional, and related occupations and in sales and office occupations. Figure 2 shows the share of the foreign-born and native-born workforce by occupational group.
Perhaps related to the higher concentration of foreign-born workers in certain occupational groups, BLS data on fatal work injuries show that such workers have a greater share of fatalities than their share of the labor force. In 2013, there were 879 fatal work injuries among foreign-born workers and 41 percent of those fatally injured were from Mexico. The foreign-born account for 19.2 percent of all fatal work injuries (879 out of 4,585), but 16.5 percent of the labor force. For all workers, the rate of fatal work injury is higher in transportation and construction-related occupations than it is in other occupational groups, likely leading to the higher share of deaths among the foreign born.17
In 1915, compensation for workers was typically in the form of wages, with some employers providing housing and other facilities, depending upon the location and type of work. Employee benefits as they are known today were limited. Some labor unions and employee associations provided assistance to employees; mutual aid societies were established to allow workers to help each other. Some expressed the view that employers shouldn’t be involved in workers’ health and related benefits, suggesting that such an approach was socialist. For example, Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, expressed his concern about compulsory benefits in 1917, arguing that such interference
Weakens independence of spirit, delegates to outside authorities some of the powers and opportunities that rightfully belong to wage earners, and breaks down industrial freedom by exercising control over workers through a central bureaucracy.18
Despite these concerns, in 1915 BLS was beginning to investigate issues related to employee benefits:
Among the new subjects upon which the bureau is now engaged are studies of profit sharing, administration of labor and compensation laws, employment bureaus of industrial and mercantile establishments, and labor conditions in Hawaii. The plans for studies relating to women in industry and several other subjects are under consideration, but have not yet been completed. The study of profit sharing is intended to cover the various forms of profit sharing proper (distribution among employees of a fixed proportion of net profits, determined in advance), as well as other forms of gain sharing, such as distribution of bonuses for long service or for other cause, premiums or dividends on wages, and sale of stock to employees on specially favorable terms. The study will include detailed descriptive as well as statistical analysis of the various schemes, together with their experience over as long a period as is possible.
In the 100 years since this passage was published, BLS has taken both a qualitative and quantitative approach to the study of employee benefits.19 Several studies did exactly what was described in 1915: produce detailed descriptive analyses of benefit schemes. More recently, quantitative studies have tracked the share of workers provided certain benefits, including profit sharing, and have presented details about plan features, one of which is something similar to the “fixed proportion of net profits” mentioned 100 years ago. Studies of employee benefits are frequently seen in today’s MLR; following are a few recent topics:
A number of BLS statistical programs examine prices and price movements. Examples are the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Producer Price Index (PPI), Import and Export Prices, and Consumer Expenditure Survey programs. Many of these programs date to before the first issue of the Monthly Review; for instance, data on wholesale prices (the former name of the PPI) are available starting in 1890. Throughout its history, BLS has reported on price changes and explored economic and other influences on those changes. In the first issue of the Monthly Review, the discussion centered on the effect of the war in Europe on foreign food prices:
To show something of the effect of the European war upon [the] cost of living following the outbreak of hostilities in August, 1914, the bureau has just issued Bulletin No. 170 under the title “Foreign food prices as affected by the war.”…The report shows that the first effect of the war was the same practically throughout Europe. Its outbreak was followed by a sharp rise in prices due mainly to panic and uncertainty.
The article went on to detail changes in the price of flour: “Russia is the greatest wheat exporting country of Europe, and the war practically shut off its foreign markets.” Among the details presented were the following:
Just as was the case 100 years ago, current BLS data on prices—consumer, producer, import, and export—show the effect of national and international issues, such as disease, war, the changing supply of oil, and other factors. Recent examples include the decline in gasoline prices (the CPI for gasoline was down 22.3 percent from June 2014 to June 2015, in part because of increases in supply and decreases in demand) and the rise in egg prices (the PPI for final demand for eggs for fresh use was up 130.2 percent from August 2014 to August 2015, in part because of diseased chickens). The MLR regularly publishes articles tracking price movements such as these.23
Much of the first issue of the Monthly Review was devoted to identifying organizations around the nation and worldwide that might provide input into the periodical and encouraging submissions of labor-related content.
The bureau will aim to keep in touch with the current work of the various State labor bureaus, or State activities by whomsoever conducted, within the field of its purview. There are at the present time 37 of the States, and in addition Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, and Porto Rico, which have bureaus or departments of labor. Similar bureaus exist in 31 foreign countries. In addition to these there are the State industrial and workmen’s compensation commissions, the minimum wage commissions, factory and mine inspection offices, the State and municipal employment agencies, and a number of other offices regularly engaged in the study of questions and the publication of reports of special interest to labor. Temporary commissions are appointed with increasing frequency to serve but a short time and investigate some single phase of the industrial problem. Most of the material is entirely inaccessible in any form to the general reader. A special purpose of the Monthly Review will be to make available regularly and promptly notices and summaries of American and foreign official reports of all bureaus, offices, and commissions of the character indicated above.
Today, BLS extends its reach to the states and territories, as well as having interactions with a wide range of international organizations. Several BLS programs that have data on employment and occupational safety and health are federal–state cooperative programs, meaning that BLS partners with states (and territories) to collect and process data. As a result, data are published at both the state and national level. For example, figure 3 shows rates of occupational injuries and illnesses for the nation and most states.
Until a few years ago, BLS conducted a program of international labor comparisons that presented information on employment, compensation, productivity, and related topics for the United States and other nations, with adjustments made to a common conceptual framework.24 Although that program was discontinued, BLS continues to provide input into publications and websites of several international organizations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).25 (In some cases, organizations such as these make adjustments for comparability purposes, so the information they present does not always match BLS published data.)
The introductory material in the first issue of the Monthly Review concludes,
A special purpose of the Monthly Review will be to make available regularly and promptly notices and summaries of American and foreign official reports of all bureaus, offices, and commissions of the character indicated above. An attempt will be made to keep in touch with the more important current movements and methods for the reporting of industrial accidents and occupational and industrial diseases and for the prevention of these; to report industrial and vocational surveys, the better housing of workingmen, and any other activities, public or private, that have for their object the betterment of industrial conditions. Summaries of sickness and out-of-work or old-age benefit funds maintained by large employing corporations, national trade-unions, etc., will receive attention.
It is hoped that through the Monthly Review the Bureau of Labor Statistics can come in closer touch with current labor activities and by means of this publication give wider publicity and deeper significance to such activities. In the furtherance of this object it is sincerely hoped that the officials in charge of Federal, State, municipal, and private activities along the lines indicated will cooperate by transmitting to the United States Commissioner of Labor Statistics the earliest copies of any plans, outlines, or reports of work in which they are severally engaged.
The Monthly Review will be issued on the 29th day of each month.
As the MLR has moved online and communications as a whole have become more instantaneous, there is no longer a fixed publication date for the journal. Rather, the MLR website is updated frequently with new content. But the hope expressed in 1915—“to come in closer touch with current labor activities and give wider publicity and deeper significance to such activities”—continues to be the focus of the Review as it begins its second 100 years.
William J. Wiatrowski, "Reimagining the Monthly Review, July 1915," Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2016, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2016.7
1 Katherine Bauer, “Comparison of U.S. and international labor turnover statistics,” Monthly Labor Review, July 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/comparison-of-u-s-and-international-labor-turnover-statistics.htm.
2 Guadalupe Cerritos, “The role of BLS import and export price indexes in the real GDP,” Monthly Labor Review, June 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/the-role-of-bls-import-and-export-price-indexes-in-the-real-gdp.htm.
3 Yavor Ivanchev, “Could healthcare reform be a game changer for U.S. self-employment? Evidence from Massachusetts,” Monthly Labor Review, June 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/beyond-bls/could-healthcare-reform-be-a-game-changer-for-u-s-self-employment-evidence-from-massachusetts.htm.
4 Graham Boone, “Left versus right: the impact of handedness on future earnings,” Monthly Labor Review, February 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/beyond-bls/left-versus-right-the-impact-of-handedness-on-future-earnings.htm.
5 Information on the current provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act is given in Wage and Hour Division (WHD): compliance assistance—wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (U.S. Department of Labor), https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/.
6 According to current Wisconsin law, street trades mean “the selling, offering for sale, soliciting for, collecting for, displaying or distributing any articles, goods, merchandise, commercial service, posters, circulars, newspaper or magazines, or the blacking of boots, on a street or other public place or from house to house.” (See Street trades (State of Wisconsin, Department of Workforce Development), https://dwd.wisconsin.gov.) One can imagine that the term “street trades” was defined differently from state to state and had a meaning a century ago different from what it means today, but, in general, in 1915 the work involved on-street selling.
7 The Healthy Families Act, H.R. 932, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/932.
8 See Oregon legislative information: 2015 regular session (Oregon State Legislature), https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2015R1/Measures/Overview/SB454.
9 Loryn Lancaster, “Changes in federal and state unemployment insurance legislation in 2013,” Monthly Labor Review, July 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/changes-in-federal-and-state-unemployment-insurance-legislation-in-2013.htm.
10 Kristen Roche, “Female self-employment in the United States: an update to 2012,” Monthly Labor Review, October 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/female-self-employment-in-the-united-states-an-update-to-2012.htm.
11 Darren Rippy, “The first hundred years of the Consumer Price Index: a methodological and political history,” Monthly Labor Review, April 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/the-first-hundred-years-of-the-consumer-price-index.htm. Comprehensive information about the methodology and limitations of all BLS programs is found in the BLS Handbook of Methods (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/.
13 See, for example, Elizabeth A. Ashack, “Profiles of significant collective bargaining disputes of 2012,” Monthly Labor Review, May 2013, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/profiles-of-significant-collective-bargaining-disputes-of-2012.htm.
14 See Paul D. Staudohar, “The football strike of 1987: the question of free agency,” Monthly Labor Review, August 1988, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1988/08/rpt1full.pdf and “The hockey lockout of 2012–2013,” Monthly Labor Review, July 2013, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/the-hockey-lockout-of-2012.htm.
15 The Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor administers the Foreign Labor Certification program. For more information, see Office of Foreign Labor Certification (U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, July 1, 2009), www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov.
16 Information on the foreign born come from the Current Population Survey and are available monthly. Each year, data are compiled into an annual report. For more information, see “Foreign-born workers,” Labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 15, 2016), https://www.bls.gov/cps/demographics.htm#foreignborn. For a recent article that explores job characteristics among foreign-born workers, see Alison Earle, Pamela Joshi, Kimberly Geronimo, and Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, “Job characteristics among working parents: differences by race, ethnicity, and nativity,” Monthly Labor Review, May 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/job-characteristics-among-working-parents.htm.
17 Information on fatalities is from the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries; for more information, see Injuries, illnesses, and fatalities (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), www.bls.gov/iif. For an example of an analysis of occupational fatalities of foreign-born workers, see Christen G. Byler, “Hispanic/Latino fatal occupational injury rates,” Monthly Labor Review, February 2013, pp. 14–23, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/02/art2full.pdf.
18 “Some Aspects of Health Insurance,” Monthly Labor Review, May 1917, pp. 746–759.
19 For more information on BLS data on employee benefits over time, see William J. Wiatrowski, “Family-related benefits in the workplace,” Monthly Labor Review, March 1990, pp. 28–33, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1990/03/art4full.pdf.
20 Kristen Monaco and Brooks Pierce, “Compensation inequality: evidence from the National Compensation Survey,” Monthly Labor Review, July 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/compensation-inequality-evidence-from-the-national-compensation-survey.htm.
21 Barbara A. Butrica and Nadia S. Karamcheva, “Automatic enrollment, employer match rates, and employee compensation in 401(k) plans,” Monthly Labor Review, May 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/automatic-enrollment-employer-match-rates-and-employee-compensation-in-401k-plans.htm.
22 William J. Wiatrowski, “Pay protection during temporary absences from work: what we know and what we don’t know,” Monthly Labor Review, September 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/pay-protection-during-temporary-absences-from-work.htm.
23 See, for example, Jonathan D. Church, “Explaining the 30-year shift in consumer expenditures from commodities to services, 1982–2012,” Monthly Labor Review, April 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/explaining-the-shift-in-consumer-expenditures.htm.
24 For information on the BLS International Labor Comparisons program, see International Labor Comparisons (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://www.bls.gov/fls/. The document also provides information on where more recent data may be found.
25 For more information, see the two OECD publications Employment Outlook and Labour Force Statistics, as well as Online OECD employment database (OECD, 2015), http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/onlineoecdemploymentdatabase.htm, and Key employment statistics (OECD, 2015), http://www.oecd.org/employment/emp/keyemploymentstatistics.htm. See also OECD Family Database (OECD, 2015), http://www.oecd.org/social/family/database.htm. The ILO maintains the ILOSTAT database, an international database on key labor statistics, http://www.ilo.org/global/lang--en/index.htm.