Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is an agency with the Department of Labor, whose task it is to gather, analyze, and provide information on all aspects of labor, economics, and the workforce in the United States. The bureau was established by President Chester A. Arthur in 1884 as part of the Department of the Interior.

Information Available From the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently provides data and information in the following areas:

  • Inflation and consumer spending
  • Wages, earnings, benefits, other compensation
  • Productivity, both  in  the United  States and internationally
  • Occupational safety and health
  • Descriptive information about occupations
  • Demographic information about those in and out of the workforce
  • Information about industries and the costs of doing business

While the bureau collects its own data, it also utilizes data from the census and various state agencies. The data and reports produced by the bureau are currently available in both print and Web formats. Major publications of interest to career counselors include the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, the Career Guide to Industries, and the Monthly Labor Review. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, first published in 1949, provides information on occupations and preparation for them. The Occupational Outlook Quarterly, first published in 1957, was designed to provide more frequent updates to the Occupational Outlook Handbook than were possible with the latter’s biennial publication schedule. The Career Guide to Industries describes this same information from the perspective of the industry in which the occupation is embedded.

Note that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and subsequent occupational definition system, the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), are publications of the Employment and Training Administration within the Department of Labor, not the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

History of the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Prior to the establishment of the bureau, the only data available at the national level on employment and labor issues was information gathered as part of the decennial census. The bureau was established in response to a growing awareness of the lack of information for policy making in the area of labor and the conditions of employment. In its early years the bureau produced a number of reports, such as an annual report on industrial depressions (beginning in 1886) and a report on retail prices and wages (1891). Another annual report produced beginning in that same period was titled “The Slums of Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia” (1893) that included not only data on employment, but on such topics as crime, literacy, health, and crowding.

In 1913, the Bureau of Labor Statistics joined three other bureaus (Immigration, Naturalization, and Children’s) to form the Department of Labor. Although there have been numerous changes in the bureaus that comprise the Department of Labor over the years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has remained a constant component of the Department. Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is joined by the following agencies in the Department of Labor: Employment and Unemployment Statistics, Prices and Living Conditions, Compensation and Working Conditions, and Productivity and Technology. Although the aforementioned agencies are not part of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, their titles provide an idea of the topics on which the bureau, as the research arm of the Department of Labor, conducts research. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics studies and evaluates the research methods used to gather and provide their data.


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/
  2. Douty, H. M. (1984). A century of wage statistics: The BLS contribution. Monthly Labor Review, 707(11), 16-28.
  3. Goldberg, J. P., & Moye, W. T. (1985). The first hundred years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Bulletin 2235). Washington, DC: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  4. Pilot, M. J. (1999). Occupational Outlook Handbook: A review of 50 years of change. Monthly Labor Review, 722(5), 8-26.
  5. Weinberg, E. (1984). BLS and the economy: A centennial timetable. Monthly Labor Review, 707(11), 29-37.

See also: