New Monthly Hours and Earnings Measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Employment Statistics Program
Parker, Robert P., Business Economics
On April 6, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began the release of new monthly measures of hours and earnings for March 2006 to January 2007, based on newly collected data from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey. The measures include national estimates for private, non-farm industries of all-employee average weekly hours paid, average hourly earnings (regular pay), and gross monthly earnings (both regular and irregular pay). The new measures are currently considered "experimental" by BLS and are available only on the CES section of the BLS website, www.bls.gov/ces/home.htm. For the remainder of 2007, BLS plans to release only final estimates of the new measures. Thus, the new measures will lag the publication of the current CES estimates in the Employment Situation news release by two months.
BLS currently publishes CES survey data on the average weekly hours and regular hourly earnings of only production workers in the nonfarm goods-producing industries and non-supervisory workers in the service-providing industries, or about 80 percent of employees of all non-farm industries. The new measures for private, non-farm industries cover all employees, and the new measure of gross monthly earnings covers regular earnings as well as bonuses and other irregular payments. As is the case with the current weekly hours and hourly earnings series, the new all-employee measures are for the paype-riod that includes the 12th of the month, whereas the new measure of gross earnings is for the entire month.
The new measures will provide more relevant information for the analysis of economic trends because of their more comprehensive coverage than the current measures. The new measure of hours also will provide improved source data for the BLS in the preparation of productivity estimates, and the new measure of gross earnings will provide improved source data for the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) in the preparation of the wage estimates for GDP and personal income. In addition, in collecting the new measures BLS learned that many respondents were finding it increasingly difficult to adhere to the current definitions of production and non-supervisory workers and that it was not possible to tabulate their payroll records based on these definitions.
Although BLS has been collecting data for the new measures since 2005, it is designating the new measures as "experimental" until it is certain of the reliability of the new measures and has time series long enough to develop seasonal adjustment factors. (This process is similar to that used for the chained CPI measures, which were first released as experimental series in 1997 and added to the CPI news release in 2002.) BLS expects to have sufficient historical data to seasonally adjust the all-employee payroll and hours series by the end of 2009 and is planning to publish them as official CES data in the Employment Situation news release and other BLS publications beginning in February 2010. It also plans to discontinue publication of the production and non-supervisory worker hours and earnings series in early 2010.
This article provides additional information on the development and release of the new measures as well the anticipated use of the new measures by BLS and by BEA. It also describes other recent improvements in the CES survey program.
Developing the New Measures
BLS found longstanding and widespread support among major CES data users to expand the coverage for these hours and earnings series. (1) The expansion would provide more useful information for the analysis of trends in the hours and earnings series and provide better information for other economic data series prepared by BLS and BEA that use the CES hours and earnings data as inputs. For example, the new gross earnings series would be of particular interest to government revenue forecasters who use BEA's current wage estimates to predict tax revenues. …