Data is truly one of the superpowers of the U.S. Department of Labor. From tracking unemployment claims, calculating monthly job growth and inflation, and tabulating owed back wages for workers, data powers virtually everything we do.
But as I recently told a panel of data experts at the Brookings Institution, what makes our data powerful is not just what the department can do with it — it’s what others can do with it. When cutting-edge data is put in the hands of policymakers, workers, unions and others invested in worker empowerment, we can evaluate the health of our economy and the well-being of our workers. And we can more accurately measure our progress toward delivering on the Biden-Harris administration’s vision of a strong, resilient and inclusive economy.
A first-of-its kind data strategy
This is why the department developed a first-of-its-kind Enterprise Data Strategy. This three-year strategy will guide our efforts to improve data collection, management and use, and enhance our ability to share data to advance opportunity and equity for America’s workers.
The data strategy’s four “FAIR” guiding principles – making data Findable by anyone, making data Accessible to all, making data Interoperable across silos and making data Reusable across time – along with the plan’s five strategic goals, will direct decision-making, project planning and data governance, and improve the state of data at the department.
Using data to improve job quality and equity for all
Our new data strategy will also allow us to track and measure efforts to improve two key areas: job quality and equity.
When it comes to job quality, we believe that what has been described as a “labor shortage” is really a good job shortage: Hiring has outpaced quits in every major sector, with higher levels of both in lower-wage sectors. In other words, workers are leaving jobs for better jobs. Within the same sectors, union employers are not having the same challenges hiring as nonunion employers. Workers want to work, but they are opting for jobs that give them a voice at work, health and safety protections, stability and benefits. One way to attract more workers is to improve job safety, working conditions and overall job quality.
This is an area where data can really help to shape the narrative and to tell the story of what our economy is going through. That’s why as part of our strategy, we created a new Job Quality Measurement Initiative that will help us define and advance job quality at scale across our economy.
In addition to promoting job quality, affirmatively advancing equity, civil rights and racial justice at work is the responsibility of all of us in government. And this work isn’t just about expanding opportunity: It’s about assessing the work we have done to date. At the department, we are looking at whether and how our own programs might be perpetuating systemic barriers and using this data to determine how to focus our efforts to better serve all workers.
As evidenced by President Biden signing his executive order on equity on day one, and by our department’s Equity Action Plan, we are committed to ensuring that all of America’s workers are protected, respected and advancing in this economy. To do this, we are lifting up the needs and voices of workers from communities who have been overlooked: workers of color, immigrants, women, workers with disabilities, the formerly incarcerated, those living in concentrated poverty, and those in rural and/or low-income communities.
We do this not simply because it is the right thing to do, but because building an inclusive economy measured by the experiences of these workers is the way to make sure no one is left behind. Data is critical to fulfilling our aims here. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is now publishing monthly jobs data on Native American and Alaska Native workers and working on disaggregating demographic data for the nation’s Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, which are diverse and have different needs and economic outcomes.
The future of data at the department
The launch of our new data strategy is just the beginning. Gathering, disseminating and making data easy to consume and understand is not an overnight process – we know that. It is a collaborative effort, and we need your help to understand the needs of the workers and stakeholders who consume our data. That’s why we launched our first-ever Open Data RFI to solicit comments, feedback and suggestions from the public. We want to hear from unions, advocates, academics, employers, other levels of governments, and anyone who has a stake in this work to let us know what they need from our data, so that we meet those needs. Together, we can use this data to improve life for all of us.
Learn more about our Enterprise Data Strategy at www.dol.gov/data.
Julie Su is the deputy secretary of labor.