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How to use BLS data to report on women’s employment

February 27, 2017

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The Bureau of Labour Statistics is a useful tool when reporting on women's employment. (Photo via Pixabay.com)

When post-inauguration women’s marches made headlines across the country, women-in-the-workforce issues became hot topics. Here are some tips for using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to jump-start a story.

Look at women’s employment in various industries

The Bureau of Labour Statistics organizes the number of women in the workforce by industry, listing both yearly and monthly changes on their website. This information can help reporters identify industries in which the number of women is shrinking, as well as the rate of decline. Sometimes the numbers may seem counterintuitive. For example, the total number of women employed in mining and logging fell from 122,000 in 2014 to 99,000 in 2016, nearly 20 percent in two years. Compare that to the total number of employees in mining and logging in June 2014—893,00—which shrunk to 668,000 in June 2016, or nearly 25 percent. Reporters can dig into why the percentage of women in that industry declined less sharply than the overall workforce. Lower wages may have played a role.

A significant growth in the size of a female workforce can trigger a story as well. For example, the Springfield News-Leader reported a record-high number of women joining the trucking industry in search of higher wages.


Compare women’s earning with men’s

Median salaries can be another indicator of whether women are being treated equally as men as a workforce. According to BLS statistics, in 2015, women’s median weekly earnings were $726, nearly 20 percent less than men’s $895. The same statistics show women’s median weekly earnings in specific industries, indicating that women earned less than men in nearly every occupation in terms of earning ratio. Notably, even for occupations traditionally dominated by women, such as registered nurses, women still earn at least 10 percent less than men.


Research women in management positions

In addition to specific numbers, the BLS also publishes reports on topics that are useful for adding context to your stories. One recent BLS publication on women executives shows that while women held more than half of the total number of white collar jobs in America, only 4.6 percent of those jobs are in executive positions, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study. The BLS also reports that women-led firms are likely to see increased productivity. Another BLS publication shows how the gender gap at manager level varies by industry. Although overall only 39 percent of managers in 2015 were women, females represented 73.7 percent of managers in the medical and health fields.

Reporter’s Takeaway

• Track women’s employment rate in various industries, and note if fewer or more women are losing jobs in specific job sectors proportionate to men. There may be industries in which the number of women is rising.

• Compare women’s median salary with men’s in different occupations and pay attention to compensation inequality in jobs traditionally held by women.

• Follow the latest reports on women on the BLS publication page and use them to give context to your stories.


  • Yu Zhang

    Yu is a passionate multimedia journalist who has reported on a wider variety of stories in the U.S. and China. Yu has investigated the state arrest of lawyers in China, left-behind children in rural areas, and talked to several founders of major vent...

    View all posts

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