What Is the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a federal agency that collects and disseminates various data about the U.S. economy and labor market. Its reports include the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI), both of which are considered to be 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 BLS is responsible for two key inflation indicators: the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index (PPI).
  • In addition, the BLS produces national and regional figures on employment, labor force participation, productivity, and wages.

Understanding the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The primary purpose of the BLS, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), is to research, assemble, and publish a range of statistical data on the labor market, prices, and productivity. This government agency goes to great lengths to ensure the accuracy, impartiality, and accessibility of its reports and the statistics it produces are among the most influential economic indicators for the American economy.

BLS data is frequently cited by the media and relied on by businesses, academics, and policymakers to inform their decision making. It's also closely watched by economists and market participants, who consult the bureau's releases to generate better and more accurate predictions for how the economy and markets will perform in the future.

Throughout its history, the BLS has been relied upon for empirical evidence to inform economic policy, including to justify raising the minimum wage.

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.
  • The Producer Price Index (PPI): A measure of the average prices American producers receive for their goods and services.
  • Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS): A range of localized data about labor efficiency and unemployment.
  • The National Compensation Survey (NCS): Produces comprehensive aggregates of workers' earnings across a variety of sectors.
  • Current Population Survey (CPS): A monthly survey that seeks to determine the demographic characteristics and employment status of all individuals of a household who are of working age. Also known as the "household survey", the CPS includes the national unemployment rate and is the primary source for U.S. labor force statistics.

History of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The BLS was first established as a branch of the Department of the Interior in 1884 with a mandate to research and compile information about economics and labor. For nearly 15 years, it subsequently operated as an independent department, before being incorporated into the short-lived Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903.

That move only lasted a decade. When the Department of Commerce and Labor was renamed the Department of Commerce (DOC) in 1913, the BLS, along with other bureaus and agencies concerned with labor, was then transferred into the newly-created DOL, a US cabinet-level agency responsible for enforcing federal labor standards and promoting workers' wellbeing.