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June 2002, Vol. 125, No. 6
Providing comparable international labor statisticsPatricia Capdevielle and Mark K. Sherwood
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produces many statistical series for the United States which describe important aspects of U.S. economic performance. For example, data show that over the last 40 years the number of employed persons has doubled. Hourly compensation costs for production workers in the manufacturing sector have grown from a little more than $6 per hour in 1975 to almost $20 per hour in 2000. Over the last 50 years, labor productivity in the manufacturing sector has increased about 3 percent per year, resulting in more than a quadrupling of the output produced per hour of labor input.1
But, how does this compare with the rest of the world? A comparison of U.S. performance with that of other countries is of interest to many data users from the academic, government, business, and labor sectors.
Several difficulties arise in making these comparisons, however. Foreign labor statistics are not always easily accessible, and publications containing the data may not be in English. The foreign statistics may not be comparable to U.S. data because of differences in concepts and definitions, classification systems, and survey methodology, and may be of uneven quality among countries.
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1 See Comparative Civilian Labor Force Statistics, Ten Countries, 1959–2001, Mar. 25, 2002, table 2. Also, see Chris Sparks, Theo Bikoi, and Lisa Moglia, "A perspective on U.S. and foreign compensation costs in manufacturing," this issue, pp. 36-50, table 1; and Aaron E. Cobet and Gregory A. Wilson, "Comparing 50 years of labor productivity in U.S. and foreign manufacturing," this issue, pp. 51-65, table 1. Available on the Internet at: http://www.bls.gov/fls/home.htm
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