The U.S. Department of Labor budget request for FY2021 asks Congress for $19.7 million to fund major improvements in three economic statistics programs--Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and the Consumer Expenditure Survey (particularly to improve poverty measurement) in the BLS; the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) in the Employment and Training Administration (ETA).
From BLS budget request https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/general/budget/2021/CBJ-2021-V3-01.pdf
1) JOLTS (p. 25) -- double JOLTS sample size to provide data by 3-digit industries nationwide and by three high-level industries by state
In FY 2021, the BLS is requesting $7,100,000 to change the JOLTS program in three ways in order to better understand U.S. labor market dynamics:
1. Enhance relevance by expanding the sample by 20,000 establishments, or roughly double the current sample level. This will allow publication of JOLTS data at the 3-digit NAICS level for many industries for the Nation, and at least three high-level industries for each State. JOLTS data elements will be published for each State, at a minimum, for total nonfarm, total private, goods producing, private service-providing, and government industries. Also, the sample expansion will improve the reliability of the estimates currently produced.
2. Improve the timeliness of JOLTS data releases by changing the reference period to reduce the current 5- to 6-week publication lag. This will allow JOLTS to be published sooner, closer to the release of The Employment Situation—which reports the unemployment rate and nonfarm payroll job growth each month.
3. Add depth by allowing for a series of focused questions on labor market issues to enhance the understanding of Openings, Hires, and Separations. Questions could cover topics such as:
Duration of vacancies (a sign of labor shortages),
Intensity of recruiting efforts (a sign of the strength of labor demand),
Occupations and/or wages of hires (signs of labor demand), and
Tenure occupations, and/or demographics of workers involved in quits and layoffs.
The JOLTS series currently is the only BLS product that directly contributes information on current labor demand. JOLTS data have a demonstrated ability to measure the high level of churn in the labor market and the movements that underlie monthly employment change as measured by the Current Employment Statistics program. Currently, the monthly JOLTS program publishes data on job openings, hires, quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations at the national and regional levels with a 5- to 6-week lag. The enhancements to the JOLTS program will provide policymakers with timely and invaluable data concerning the behavior of employers and employees before, during, and after shocks to the labor market, enabling them to craft more effective policy to promote economic vitality. Data on these and other issues will fill gaps in our real-time understanding of labor market conditions, wages and skills of jobs created versus destroyed, and employer perception of opportunities.
In FY 2021, the JOLTS program will research the necessary steps required to implement the change in the reference periods, modify questionnaires and interviewing procedures, and modify systems and data review procedures. As soon as that initial research phase is over and feasibility confirmed, and the questionnaires and interviewing procedures are updated, the BLS will begin to phase in the expanded sample, with the expanded sample implemented fully by the end of the third year of data collection.
2) Consumer Expenditure Survey --> improved Supplemental Poverty Measure and new consumption-based poverty measure (p. 38)
In FY 2021, the BLS is requesting $7,126,000 to research the nature and construction of a potential consumption-based poverty measure and improve the CE program in support of improved poverty measurement. Poverty is a critical indicator of how widely prosperity is shared in our economy and is a key benchmark for targeting resources toward the disadvantaged. The current official U.S. poverty measure was developed in the 1960s and has not been substantially changed since then.
In FY 2021, the CE program will begin work to develop, implement, and maintain production-quality thresholds to support the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The production-quality thresholds will replace the Research Experimental SPM thresholds used by Census since 2011. Specifically, starting in FY 2021, the CE program will update and maintain the CE questionnaire to support SPM thresholds, including questions on topics such as school meals and subsidies for utilities. The program also will modify and maintain CE processing systems to accommodate questionnaire changes, produce SPM thresholds, and ensure regular annual release of CE publication tables in August to support the September release date of the Census income and poverty report. Prices and Cost of Living will conduct research activities needed to continually make improvements to the SPM thresholds to keep pace with changes in the economy.
Also in FY 2021, Prices and Cost of Living will begin research on the nature and construction of a potential consumption-based poverty measure by evaluating external data sources to match existing CE data for both private data, such as the National Automobile Dealers Association data on market values of used vehicles, and public data such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for Medicaid and Medicare data. Prices and Cost of Living also will begin exploring additional questions to add to the survey on topics such as home production for own-consumption, goods and services received as gifts, participation in in-kind benefit programs (public and private) that support consumption, the allocation of goods and services within the household, and bartering for the exchange of goods and services. Development and eventual production of a consumption-based poverty measure would improve the public’s and policymakers’ understanding of what families are able to consume, including that from ownership of durables like vehicles, regardless of the source of funding available (e.g., income, savings, credit). Such a measure could be used to better inform policies targeted towards reducing poverty. Additional resources would enable BLS to improve the CE and study changes that would be required to produce a consumption-based poverty measure to complement the SPM and Official Poverty Measure.
The two aspects of the initiative described above will incorporate relevant input as appropriate from the Interagency Technical Working Group on Evaluating Alternative Measures of Poverty (ITWG-EAMP), a working group chartered to evaluate possible alternative measures of poverty, how such measures might be constructed, and whether to publish those measures along with the measures currently being published.
3) O*NET -- see https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/general/budget/2021/CBJ-2021-V1-07.pdf
The FY 2021 Budget request includes an increase of $5,500,000 ($2,173,000 of which represents new budget authority and $3,327,000 of which will be derived from the base funding of other activities) to modernize and update O*NET across a broader range of occupations by leveraging data science techniques like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data mining. This investment seeks to increase the Department’s capacity to identify emerging occupations and identify the impact of technological changes, like automation, on the workforce. In September 2019, the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board (AWPAB), created by Executive Order 13845 Establishing the President’s National Council for the American Worker, recommended developing a “flexible skills-based ontology and structured, living taxonomies to create an adaptable common data foundation (Develop recommendations to modernize O*Net).” The GAO has also noted the need to “expand the O*NET data system…to track the spread of advanced technologies.”
In response to the AWPAB’s recommendation, the Department requests additional funding to test the application of new methods—such as artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and machine learning—on O*NET occupational information. The requested resources would allow the Department to identify appropriate methods, enhance O*NET capacities, incorporate new data science techniques, and modernize O*NET functionality. These enhancements will allow for O*NET data to be updated more frequently and efficiently, better monitor changing business skill demands over time, and identify the occupations most likely to be impacted by automation.