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BLS Cuts Would Leave Policymakers Without Needed Data

We’ve explained that House and Senate bills would seriously underfund core Census Bureau activities, potentially weakening the quality of data on which both the private and public sectors rely.  In a related matter, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also faces a funding shortfall as Congress strives to stay within the sequestration caps on discretionary programs, which are simply too low. 

The budget of the BLS — which publishes key data about labor markets, working conditions, and prices — has been under continuous pressure since 2010.  The Senate and House Appropriations Committee bills for 2016 would leave the agency’s budget 11 percent and 15 percent below the 2010 level, respectively, after adjusting for inflation. 

At these funding levels, BLS in 2016 would likely stop collecting and releasing some important datasets, making it harder for policymakers, businesses, and individuals to understand today’s labor market.  It also could affect the accuracy of the federal government’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which (among other uses) shows how key safety net programs reduce poverty.

Previous cuts have already driven BLS to eliminate several labor market measures and curtail another, as the Urban Institute details.  Last year in response to cuts, the agency scaled back a survey providing quarterly data available nowhere else on employment and wages — data the Federal Reserve uses to help track inflation and understand the labor market.  Another year of a constrained budget would also threaten initiatives designed to better understand the dynamics of the labor market, including the latest local and national trends in who is being hired and laid off and the growing role of temporary jobs.

The comprehensive, high-quality data BLS and Census issue on economic and other developments constitute an invaluable public good.  As the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain points out, it’s difficult to imagine that the private sector could collect such detailed BLS data — and even if it could, it would likely be considerably more expensive for private and public organizations alike to use. 

Policymakers need more data, not less, to help them make effective decisions about the economy and jobs.  To ensure adequate funding for BLS — and a wide range of other appropriated programs — policymakers should raise the caps on discretionary funding, offset with alternate savings, as they did on a bipartisan basis in 2013.