The Demand for Data: Modernizing Methods and Improving Communication


The COVID-19 pandemic exposed just how fragile surveys and administrative data can be. In response to both this and the push for the availability of data at the local level in recent years, the U.S. statistical system has seen modernization efforts to produce data that is truly reflective of reality. To meet the data demands, the United States Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have been developing new methodologies and acting on lessons learned from the pandemic.

Dr. William Beach, the Commissioner of the BLS, Dr. Ron Jarmin, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, and Mauricio Ortiz, the Chief of the BEA’s Regional Incomes Division, came together on June 15th at the C2ER/LMI Institute (Virtual) Annual Conference Federal Partners Panel to discuss each agency’s current situation, their budgetary challenges, and opportunities, and what the future of data collection, usage, and sharing looks like at the federal level.

Dr. Beach explained how The Bureau of Labor Statistics has seen an increased budget for next year which will go towards improving the quality of data. Next year’s budget increase is consistent with this trend of an increasing operating budget over the past couple of years. Yet, this next budget increase is more significant, as President Biden has been pushing for the inclusion of more local demographic data. Methods will be improved, for example, doubling the sample for the Job Opening and Turnover Survey, and funding will be given to the new cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. BLS also recently created State Productivity Estimates for comparison across the country. A new focus of the organization will also be the publication of more specific data surrounding American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Japanese populations.

Dr. Jarmin highlighted how The U.S. Census Bureau plans to publish Community Resilience Estimates, which look at the ability of a community to withstand shocks to their economy from natural disasters and pandemics, and Business Formation Statistics which will predict the number of businesses that will be formed. Their current budget allows for the resources needed to execute the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Economic Census, as well as planning for the 2030 Census. In support of modernization efforts, they are making changes to increase the flexibility of their resources to be allocated towards higher priority initiatives.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, as conveyed by Ortiz, expanded the Personal Consumption Expenditures by state statistics to include greater detail. Additionally, they have released GDP statistics for Puerto Rico, which was the last U.S. territory that the BEA was not tracking or including the statistics of. Looking to the future, the 2023 budget has several initiatives for the BEA to continue research and to create prototype and official statistics such as income distribution across households, global supply chains, Space Sector and Space Economy, and the Healthcare Satellite Account.

The Census Bureau, BEA, and BLS all experienced shocks to their administrative system thanks to the pandemic, speeding up the process of updating their methods and their intercommunication work. However, the future for these federal partners seems bright. To round out the panel, each speaker affirmed their organizations’ plans to meet the challenges of local data collection, with emphasis on confidentiality and calibrating modern methods to meet the needs of economic researchers at all levels.