Director’s Blog – Issue 1/June 2024

At the COPAFS Quarterly Meeting in June, the BLS Commissioner, Dr. Erika McEntarfer, announced a reduction in sample size for the Current Population Survey (CPS) due to insufficient funds to maintain the current monthly sample size of 54,000. The sample reduction was estimated to be 5,000 cases per month and will take place within the next few months. My initial reaction to this announcement was to ask how such a high-profile data collection effort, which makes headline news each month when unemployment numbers are released, has been on life support for so long and now faces sample size reductions. My second reaction was to ask, is this only the tip of the iceberg, given that most federal statistical agencies have been flat funded or seen significant reductions in funding for FY24. Indeed, others at the meeting had similar reactions and the news hit the media a few hours later.

The Friends of BLS recently drafted an appropriations recommendation letter asking for $812 million for the Bureau of Labor Statistics in FY25. This is $114 million more than BLS received in FY24, however BLS has lost 27% of its purchasing power since FY10 when its appropriation was $611.4 million (equivalent to $886.2 million today).This loss in financial support has plagued BLS for years, forcing the leadership and staff to find ways to keep critical data collection programs up and running. Sadly, these workarounds are no longer sufficient due to lagging appropriations, leaving BLS with no other choice but to reduce sample size. Indeed, when the BLS Commissioner asked field operations what else could be done to save money, apart from cutting sample size, the response was everything that can be done has already been done.

In addition, the CPS Modernization Effort, announced in October 2023, is just getting underway and will need funding to ensure that it is seen through to completion over the next few years. The Friends of BLS specifically referenced this effort in their letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate:

  • Current Population Survey (CPS) Modernization – The CPS is on budgetary life support and needs immediate help. The CPS is a monthly survey of households that provides a comprehensive body of data on the labor force, employment, unemployment, and other labor force characteristics. Established in 1938, the CPS has seen declining response rates in recent years, as have other surveys, and significant funding gaps. The modernization effort is focused on improving response rates and thereby reducing bias in the critical data the survey produces as well as significantly reducing costs. These efforts include the development of an internet self-response mode, direct focus on hard-to-reach cases, and adaptive design which will yield cost savings while maintaining data quality.

Efforts over the years to increase funding for BLS and other statistical agencies have made some, but clearly not enough, progress in moving the needle for critical data collection programs such as the CPS. Both the Friends of BLS and COPAFS are taking this news as a call to action and ask that you do the same. There are several ways that you and your organization can help:

  1. Contact your Congressperson or Senator directly and let them know your concern about the reduction in sample size for the CPS;
  2. Ask your organization to sign on to the Friends of BLS letter on this matter which will be sent to the appropriate legislators (more on this soon);
  3. Participate in Hill visits, with Friends of BLS, to show support for these efforts; and
  4. Attend the Friends of BLS webinar which will be held in the next month and participate in the discussion about additional steps our community can take to help.

I trust that anyone reading this has a genuine interest in federal statistics and recognizes their importance for the functioning of our democracy. As such, I ask that you help us ensure that the CPS remains the gold standard for measuring the U.S. labor market. The funding needed to maintain the CPS at current levels is not great, however the consequences of not doing so are significant and, potentially, a portent of things to come.

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