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Why Do BLS Hours Series Tell Different Stories About Trends in Hours Worked?

In: Labor in the New Economy

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  • Harley Frazis
  • Jay Stewart

Abstract

Hours worked is an important economic indicator. In addition to being a measure of labor utilization, average weekly hours are inputs into measures of productivity and hourly wages, which are two key economic indicators. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ two hours series tell very different stories. Between 1973 and 2007 average weekly hours estimated from the BLS’s household survey (the Current Population Survey or CPS) indicate that average weekly hours of nonagricultural wage and salary workers decreased slightly from 39.5 to 39.3. In contrast, average hours estimated from the establishment survey (the Current Employment Statistics survey or CES) indicate that hours fell from 36.9 to 33.8 hours per week. Thus the discrepancy between the two surveys increased from about two-and-a-half hours per week to about five-and-a-half hours. Our goal in the current study is to reconcile the differences between the CPS and CES estimates of hours worked and to better understand what these surveys are measuring. We examine a number of possible explanations for the divergence of the two series: differences in workers covered, multiple jobholding, differences in the hours concept (hours worked vs. hours paid), possible overreporting of hours in CPS, and changes in the length of CES pay periods. We can explain most of the difference in levels, but cannot explain the divergent trends.

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This chapter was published in:

  • Katharine G. Abraham & James R. Spletzer & Michael Harper, 2010. "Labor in the New Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number abra08-1, October.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10828.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10828

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    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
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    1. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Harley Frazis & Jay Stewart, 2005. "Data Watch: The American Time Use Survey," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 221-232, Winter.
    2. Peter Kuhn & Fernando Lozano, 2005. "The Expanding Workweek? Understanding Trends in Long Work Hours Among U.S. Men, 1979-2004," NBER Working Papers 11895, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1990. "Shirking or Productive Schmoozing: Wages and the Allocation of Time at Work," NBER Working Papers 2800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Harley Frazis & Jay Stewart, 2007. "Where Does the Time Go? Concepts and Measurement in the American Time Use Survey," NBER Chapters, in: Hard-to-Measure Goods and Services: Essays in Honor of Zvi Griliches, pages 73-97 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Katharine G. Abraham & James R. Spletzer & Jay C. Stewart, 1998. "Divergent Trends in Alternative Wage Series," NBER Chapters, in: Labor Statistics Measurement Issues, pages 293-325 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. James R. Spletzer & Katharine G. Abraham & Jay C. Stewart, 1999. "Why Do Different Wage Series Tell Different Stories?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 34-39, May.
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    Cited by:
    1. Loukas Karabarbounis, 2014. "The Labor Wedge: MRS vs. MPN," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 17(2), pages 206-223, April.
    2. Harley Frazis & Jay Stewart, 2009. "Comparing Hours per Job in the CPS and the ATUS," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 93(1), pages 191-195, August.

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