Bureau of Labor Statistics

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"Is employment below or above the level of last month?" "What has happened to prices during the past month?" Such questionsand thousands of others about a wide range of labor-related topicsare answered by personnel of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). When the BLS was established by Congress on June 27, 1884, its mission was stated in these words: "The general design and duties of the Bureau of Labor shall be to acquire and diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with labor, in the more general and comprehensive sense of that word, and especially upon its relation to capital, the hours of labor, social, intellectual, and moral prosperity." The BLS is an independent national statistical agency that collects, processes, analyzes, and disseminates essential statistical data to the citizens of the United States, the U.S. Congress, other federal agencies, state and local governments, businesses, and labor. The president appoints the head of the BLS, the commissioner, with approval by the Senate for a specific term that does not coincide with that of his administration.

The BLS is distinct from the policy-making and enforcement activities of the Department of Labor. The BLS is impartial, with a strong commitment to integrity and objectivity; its data have credibility because of the standards maintained throughout the agency. The major areas of BLS activity are:

  • Employment and unemployment
  • Prices and living conditions
  • Compensation and working conditions
  • Productivity and technology
  • Employment projections
  • Safety and health statistics

Employment and unemployment

In addition to monthly figures on employment and unemployment, the BLS does a comprehensive breakdown of the age, sex, and racial and ethnic composition of the work force as well as of industries and occupations in which the workers are employed. Other characteristics are also tracked, including patterns of regional employment and the extent of participation in work by teenagers, blacks, Hispanics, women, and older Americans.

Price and living conditions

Each month the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producers Price Index (PPI) are prepared. The BLS also reports how households spend their incomes.

Compensation and working conditions

Comprehensive studies of employee compensationwages and benefitsare undertaken that relate to occupations, industries, and areas of the country. An initiative begun in 2000 produces national employment cost indexes, employment cost levels, and employee benefit incidence.

Productivity and technology

This office produces productivity measures for industries and for major sectors of the U.S. economy. Additionally, it provides comparisons for key BLS labor statistics series as well as training and technical assistance in labor statistics to people from other countries.

Employment projections

There is much interest in the projections provided by this unit of the BLS. Information about future employment growthand the nature of that growthis of critical importance to public officials, businesses, young people preparing for careers, and those who design educational programs at all levels.

Safety and health statistics

The extent of workplace injuries and illnesses is the concern of the office that compiles safety and health statistics. Information analyzed and summarized includes job-related injuries and illnesses by industry, nature of the injury or illness, and the workers involved. There is also a compilation of work-related deaths. The statistics provided are useful in developing safety and health standards, in controlling work hazards, and in the allocation of resources for workplace inspection, training, and consultation services.


The BLS, as is the case for all federal agencies, functions in an open environment. As changes are contemplated, they are discussed with users and advisory committees and described in published materials. Fair information practices are used; maintaining confidentiality of individual responses is assured. The BLS promises the public that users will be provided assistance in understanding the uses and limitations of data provided.

The BLS gathers its information from business and labor groups throughout the country through voluntary advisory councils. The councils were established in 1947; current members meet with BLS staff for discussions related to such matters as planned programs and day-today problems the BLS faces in collecting, recording, and analyzing statistics as well as in the publishing of reports.


The most widely distributed publications, which are available in public as well as other libraries, include: Monthly Labor Review, Employment and Earnings, and Occupational Outlook Quarterly. Additionally, a variety of surveys, including those related to the Consumer Price Index and the Producer Price Index, are published.


Rapid technological changes, globalization of world markets, and demographic shifts are all forces that are reshaping the U.S. workplace in relation to the nature and types of jobs, the composition of the work force, and workers' education, skills, and experiences. The BLS in its Revised Strategic Plan 19972002 stated that it "has been and will continue to be responsive to users' need to understand changes."

The BLS has undertaken efforts to improve its programs so that they capture workplace and work-force changes. The Current Population Survey, which provides monthly data on the demographic and educational characteristics of the work force, includes supplemental surveys on workplace issues such as contingent employment, worker displacement, and work schedules. A new monthly survey of job openings and labor turnover for the country and major industry sectors will provide information that had not been available earlier.


As of the end of 2005, there were approximately 2,600 BLS employees working in Washington, D.C., and in the regional offices in seven cities: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. The BLS reports that there is a continuing need for economists, mathematical statisticians, and computer specialists. There is a more limited need for administrative and financial specialists as well as for many types of technicians and assistants. Employment is restricted by law to U.S. citizens. Most professional jobs require a bachelor's degree or its equivalent in experience. Specific qualifications and educational requirements are described in BLS pamphlets available from the agency and also on the Internet (http://www.bls.gov/).


Goldberg, Joseph P., and Moye, William J. (1985). The First Hundred Years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Bernard H. Newman

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