What Is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a federal agency that produces a range of economic data about the U.S. economy. These reports include the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI), both important measures of inflation.

Key Takeaways

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is an American government agency tasked with collecting and disseminating a range of economic and employment data.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is responsible for two key inflation indicators, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI).
  • In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics produces national and regional figures on employment, labor force participation, productivity, and wages.

Understanding the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and its primary purpose is to research, assemble, and publish a range of statistical data on the labor market, prices, and productivity. The statistics produced by the BLS are some of the most influential economic indicators for the American economy; they are frequently cited by the media and used by businesses, academics, and policymakers to inform their decisionmaking. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics goes to great lengths to ensure accuracy, impartiality, and accessibility of their reports. The agency's data releases are closely watched by economists and market participants in order to generate better and more accurate predictions for how the economy and markets will perform in the future.

Most Important Data Releases

Some of the most important statistical releases published by the BLS include:

  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI): an aggregate of the prices of a relatively fixed basket of goods, which is used as a standard gauge of inflation and the cost of living (Cost of living adjustments (COLAs) are included in products and services, like social security, insurance policies, and annuities, track inflation using the CPI.)
  • The Producer Price Index (PPI): a measure of the average prices American producers receive for their goods and services (This is considered to be another important indicator of inflation.)
  • Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS): a range of localized data about labor efficiency and unemployment
  • The National Compensation Survey (NCS): comprehensive aggregates of workers' earnings across a variety of sectors
  • Current Population Survey (CPS): also known as the "Household" Survey, this monthly survey of the American population includes the national unemployment rate. The CPS is the primary source for U.S. labor force statistics. The survey includes a representative sample of about 60,000 homes and focuses on those individuals who are 15 years and older to make an inferential assumption about the U.S. population as a whole. 

History of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was established as a branch of the Department of the Interior in 1884 with a mandate to research and compile information about economics and labor. It was incorporated into the Department of Labor (DOL) in 1913. It is currently still a part of the DOL. Throughout its history, the BLS has been relied upon for empirical evidence to inform economic policy. For example, research from the BLS is often used to justify raising the minimum wage.