Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The BLS Strikes Back

"You talkin' to me?" That famous line could describe the response of the Bureau of Labor Statistics to a critical NBER study, which suggested that the Current Population Survey's labor force questions undercount the nation's employed and multiple job holders because they fail to capture much of the informal economy—or gig work.

The BLS has fired back, defending the CPS labor force questions in a recent Monthly Labor Review article. In the article, BLS researchers compare results from the CPS with those from the American Time Use Survey, which asks respondents about "income-generating activities" in addition to whether they have a main or other job. The finding: the nation’s overall employment figures are minimally affected by including respondents who report unemployment on the CPS and income-generating activities on the ATUS. This inclusion would increase overall employment by between 0.4 and 3.0 percent. A bigger effect is seen for multiple job holders. By including in the multiple job holder count those who report having a single job on the CPS and additional income-generating activities on ATUS, the increase in multiple job holders ranges from between 3.0 and a substantial 20.7 percent. The increase is especially large for young adults (as high as 42 percent for people under age 25), women (27 percent), and the less educated (23 percent for those with a high school diploma or less education).

While admitting there could be more multiple job holders than the official CPS numbers indicate, the BLS dismisses the notion that the CPS has missed a surge in gig work. The article concludes: "Despite anecdotal evidence of a large increase in the number of gig workers in recent years, ATUS estimates do not show a marked increase since 2003–07 in either the percentage of people who did income-generating activities or in the amount of time spent by those who did these activities."

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Measuring Labor Market Activity Today: Are the Words Work and Job too Limiting for Surveys?

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