ASA/NSF/BLS Fellowship Possible Research Topics in Economic Measurement


General Information

See the main Fellowship page for more information on eligibility and application requirements. Applicants may also be interested in topics in Statistics or Behavioral Science.

Economic Measurement and Research

Proposals under this topic would include theoretical or empirical studies designed to improve BLS statistical programs. Research could focus on defining and refining the concepts to be measured or could analyze a variety of topics relating to labor markets, prices, and productivity.

Measurement of Labor Force Characteristics

Accuracy in measuring unemployment depends upon the ability to make meaningful distinctions between the various labor force concepts. Areas of possible research include:

  • The adjustment of flows between labor force categories for rotation group effects
  • Measurement error in respondent classification into labor force and demographic categories
  • Topics related to the comparative labor market situation of various groups of workers at a point in time or over time
  • Comparing Current Population Survey (CPS) estimates to estimates in other data sources and exploring reasons for differences, such as differences in hours of work or types of workers

Determining Job Requirements

The Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS) is being developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in association with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The ORS seeks to provide job characteristics data to help the SSA in their disability determination process. Specifically, the ORS will gather job-related information regarding physical demands (ranging from keyboarding use to lifting), environmental conditions (such as extreme heat and cold), vocational preparation (including education, prior work experience, and training) and cognitive demands (including complexity and communication). Given that this is a new survey, unique opportunities exist for reliability and validity studies. Analyses related to the question of how quickly occupational requirements evolve over time would also be welcome.

Measurement and Analysis of Labor Cost

The Employment Cost Index (ECI) measures the rate of change in total compensation, which includes wages, salaries, and employers' cost of employee benefits.  It can be used as an indicator of the growth in the cost of employing a set group of labor inputs, from quarter to quarter or over longer periods.  Several aspects of the underlying data source, the National Compensation Survey, are distinctive.  Among these are the panel structure of the survey, which follows specific job titles over time, and the comprehensive nature of the compensation data collected, which include separate measures for 20 benefit categories.

BLS is interested in new research to improve the ways in which these data are translated into measures of cost trends, and to document and discover the ways in which the particulars of compensation are generated in the US. Fellows could study many aspects of wages and benefits, including the determinants of wage adjustment within employers, the proper approaches to calculating employment costs for “lumpy,” promisory, or provisional benefits, the multi-dimensional contours of leave policies, and the evolving changes in the provision of health and retirement benefits.

Time Use

Since 2003, the American Time Use Survey has collected detailed information about how respondents spend their time. This survey provides an opportunity for methodologists to propose reliability and validity studies. The data also provide a rich source of information useful for economic, psychological, and sociological research. Studies that could be conducted might include, but are not limited to:

  • Analysis and valuation of unpaid work, to provide a more comprehensive picture of aggregate economic output, consumption, growth, productivity, and technological change
  • Comparisons of time spent in paid work activities reported through the time diary and other labor-force surveys
  • Examinations of the amount of time spent waiting for various services
  • Assessments of the quality of life in the United States, such as an examination of leisure time or time spent with others
  • Re-analysis of poverty to include details about home production and leisure activities
  • Analyses of data on eldercare, including the time eldercare providers spend providing care and types of care activities
  • Changes in time use
  • Business cycle effects on time use
  • Analyses using ATUS module data on:
    • Individuals’ affective experiences (2010 Well-being module)
    • Eating and health patterns (2006-08 Eating and Health modules)
    • Workers’ access to leave (2011 Leave module)

Incidence of Injuries and Illnesses

The BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) measures the incidence of OSHA-recordable injuries and illnesses via an annual establishment survey. Recent research demonstrates that the survey likely undercounts the total number of workplace injuries and illnesses. This conclusion is based on matching SOII microdata to other case data (particularly workers’ compensation data) and applying capture-recapture analysis. Research in this area might explore matching data sets for numerous years to analyze any trends in undercounting over time by industry or injury type, or the effects of administrative changes in recordkeeping rules for the data sets. Alternatively, research might explore whether certain factors affect OSHA recordkeeping practices, such as safety incentive programs, competitive contracting based in part on recordable incident rates, unionization, or the use of third-party administrators, for example.

Productivity Research

Productivity-related research includes:

  • Factors affecting productivity change, such as investments in research and development
  • Issues affecting the measurement of productivity
  • Industry studies to explain productivity growth
  • Cross-industry comparisons of productivity growth
  • International comparisons of productivity growth.

Price Measurement

A number of long-standing problems in price measurement would be suitable topics for research. They include:

  • Pricing of consumer financial services
  • Treatment of style and quality changes
  • Measurement of prices for the consumption of services derived from consumer durables
  • An in-depth analysis of measurement problems and potential biases for a specific component of a price index (e.g. medical services, electronics, or housing)

Measurement of Consumer Expenditures

The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) program consists of two surveys—the Quarterly Interview survey and the Diary survey—that provide information on the buying habits, income, and demographic characteristics of American households. Proposals under this topic would include theoretical or empirical studies designed to improve the measurement of consumer expenditures. Research could focus on methods for reducing total survey error, as well as on more specific areas, such as optimal reference periods, improving diary methods, analyzing mode effects, or understanding cognitive factors associated with expenditure reporting. More analytic inquiries such as examinations of the joint distribution of income, expenditures, and net worth as well as joint distributions of income and expenditures are also of interest.

Output Definition

The need to define output arises in the development of BLS data on producer prices (the unit of output to be priced must be specified) and on productivity (labor productivity is defined as output per employee hour). Although there is some difficulty in defining output for goods-producing industries, the problems of defining output for many of the service-producing industries are particularly complex.

 

Last Modified Date: November 21, 2014