Division of international labor comparisons

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International Labor Comparisons
Bureau of labor statistics logo.svg
BLS logo
Abbreviation ILC
Formation 1961
Type Government
Purpose Comparable statistics across countries
Parent organization
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Affiliations U.S. Department of Labor
Website http://www.bls.gov/ilc/

The International Labor Comparisons Program (ILC) of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) adjusts economic statistics (with an emphasis on labor statistics) to a common conceptual framework in order to make data comparable across countries. Its data can be used to evaluate the economic performance of one country relative to that of other countries and to assess international competitiveness.[1]

Since 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has discontinued this program, but The Conference Board continues to publish the majority of the data series.


Precursors of the International Labor Comparisons Program[edit]

The first commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Carroll Wright, began the BLS tradition of international comparisons. He sent members of his staff to Europe to collect information on foreign labor force trends. In 1898, BLS published a report that compared wages in the United States to those in Europe and in 1902 it published a report that described labor conditions in Mexico.[2]

In 1915, the first issue of the Monthly Labor Review, the Bureau’s research journal, contained articles on employment and various other economic indicators in foreign countries.[3] In the late 1940s, BLS assisted in the implementation of the Marshall Plan by developing international comparisons of labor productivity and providing technical assistance to European governments for developing their own productivity statistics.[4]

Founding of the current program[edit]

BLS formed the current international comparisons program in the 1960s as the importance of foreign trade and interest in international competition grew. The first study published by the program was an evaluation of the comparability of unemployment rates undertaken in response to a 1961 request by the Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics. In 1963, the program began to publish trends of labor productivity and unit labor costs for the manufacturing sector. In the mid-1970s, the program published level comparisons of Gross Domestic Product per Capita and by 1980 levels of hourly compensation (wages and benefits) in the manufacturing sector.[5]

Recent developments[edit]

Over time, the program expanded its coverage of labor indicators and countries. In addition to the aforementioned labor indicators, the program began to publish a number of related indicators, such as average annual hours, exchange rates, and consumer price indexes. Further, the program originally covered only selected developed countries. As developing countries became more important to U.S. trade, the program expanded its coverage to include selected emerging economies in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.[6]

In addition, the program produced a number of special international studies on topics, such as compensation and employment in China, youth labor markets, and family structures. The current program has also shown commitment to international cooperation. ILC aided the International Labour Organization (ILO) in developing the Key Indicators of Labor Market (KILM), a compilation of fundamental measures of labor market conditions.[7] ILC also provided KILM with data on hourly compensation.[8]

In 2009, the name of the program was changed from the Division of Foreign Labor Statistics to the International Labor Comparisons Program.[9] Since 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has discontinued this program, but The Conference Board continues to publish the majority of the data series. [10]

Statistical Reporting[edit]

ILC prepares internationally comparable labor indicators that can be used to assess economic and labor market performance of one country relative to that of other countries and to evaluate the competitive position of different countries. The comparisons primarily cover industrialized countries and increasingly also developing countries.[11]

Labor force, employment, and unemployment[edit]

ILC produces annual data for labor force, employment, and unemployment measures in 16 countries.[12] Monthly and quarterly seasonally adjusted unemployment rates and employment indexes are also available.[13] Foreign country data are adjusted to the U.S. definitions used by the U.S. Current Population Survey.[14][15]

Hourly compensation (wages and benefits)[edit]

ILC’s hourly compensation series presents labor costs adjusted for cross country comparability for 36 countries.[16] Hourly compensation refers to employers’ total expenditure on labor per hour worked, and includes wages and salaries, direct benefits, and contributions to social security schemes.[17] The ILC compensation series covers all employees and production workers in manufacturing and 22 sub-manufacturing industries, such as apparel, motor vehicles, and computer and electronics.[18][19]

Productivity and unit labor costs[edit]

ILC produces internationally comparable data on productivity, calculated as output per hour worked; unit labor costs, calculated as hourly compensation per unit of output; and related measures. The data cover the manufacturing sector and, for selected series, also the whole economy for 19 countries.[20]

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and per hour[edit]

ILC’s produces internationally comparable data on Gross Domestic Product per Capita, Gross Domestic Product per Hour, and related measures for 20 countries.[21] The data are adjusted to U.S. dollars using purchasing power parities (PPPs).[22]

Consumer prices[edit]

ILC publishes Harmonized Indexes of Consumer Prices (HICP) that are internationally comparable[23] and also compiles CPI data from national statistical offices. Although the national CPIs presented are not comparable across countries, they are adjusted to the same base year for all countries.[24] In addition, ILC published an article that analyzed harmonized indexes of consumer prices.[25]

Indicator Main Statistics Related Statistics Annual Coverage Country Coverage Sector Coverage Frequency of Publication
Labor Force Labor force participation rates by sex and women’s share of the labor force Labor force levels and working-age population by sex 1970–present 16 Total economy Annual
Employment Employment-population ratios by sex and distribution of employment by sector Employment levels by sector and working-age population by sex 1970–present 16 Total economy Annual, monthly (Employment indexes only)
Unemployment Unemployment rates by sex and by age Unemployment levels 1970–present 16 Total economy Annual, monthly (Unemployment rates only)
Hourly Compensation Labor costs per hour Wages and direct benefits 1975–present 37 Manufacturing, sub-manufacturing industries Annual
Labor Productivity Output per hour Output, hours, employment 1950–present 19 Manufacturing Annual
Unit Labor Costs Labor cost per output Compensation 1950–present 19 Manufacturing Annual
GDP GDP per capita and GDP per hour Purchasing Power Parities, exchange rates 1960–present 19 Total economy Annual
Price Indexes Consumer price indexes 1950–present 16 Total economy Annual, monthly
Harmonized Price Indexes Harmonized indexes of consumer prices 1996–present 16 Total economy Annual, monthly

Research and Special Studies[edit]

ILC publishes articles on international subjects in the Monthly Labor Review. Topics have included employment[26] and compensation in China,[27] compensation in India,[28] labor markets for youth,[29] and hours worked.[30] The program publishes an annual chartbook of international labor comparisons.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.bls.gov/ilc/
  2. ^ Patricia Capdevielle and Mark Sherwood, “Providing comparable international labor statistics,” Monthly Labor Review, June 2002. Page 4.
  3. ^ Patricia Capdevielle and Mark Sherwood, “Providing comparable international labor statistics,” Monthly Labor Review, June 2002, p. 4.
  4. ^ Solidelle F. Wasser and Michael L. Dolfman, “BLS and the Marshall Plan: the forgotten story,” Monthly Labor Review, June 2005, and Joseph Goldberg and William Moye. First hundred years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 1985. Page 205.
  5. ^ Joseph Goldberg and William Moye. First hundred years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 1985, p. 252, and Patricia Capdevielle and Mark Sherwood, “Providing comparable international labor statistics,” Monthly Labor Review, June 2002. Pages 4–6.
  6. ^ http://www.bls.gov/ilc/availability.htm
  7. ^ International Labour Organization, Key indicators of the labor market 1999, September 1999. Page VII
  8. ^ International Labour Organization, KILM 17. Hourly compensation costs.
  9. ^ http://www.bls.gov/ilc/
  10. ^ https://www.conference-board.org/ilcprogram/
  11. ^ Country Coverage, BLS ILC program
  12. ^ “International Comparisons of Annual Labor Force Statistics, Adjusted to U.S. Concepts, 10 Countries:” at bls.gov/ilc
  13. ^ “International Unemployment Rates and Employment Indexes, Seasonally Adjusted” at bls.gov/ilc
  14. ^ http://www.bls.gov/ilc/flscomparelf/notes.htm#why_are_adjustments_necessary BLS web site: “Why adjustments are necessary”:
  15. ^ U.S. country notes at bls.gov/ilc
  16. ^ BLS News Release, “International Comparisons of Hourly Compensation Costs in Manufacturing”: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ichcc.toc.htm
  17. ^ BLS News Release, Hourly Compensation news release technical notes
  18. ^ http://www.bls.gov/ilc/flshcaeindnaics.htm
  19. ^ International Hourly Compensation Costs for Production Workers, by Sub-Manufacturing Industry, 1992–2007 at bls.gov/ilc
  20. ^ BLS News Release, “International Comparisons of Manufacturing Productivity and Unit Labor Cost Trends”
  21. ^ International comparisons of GDP per capita and per hour worked at bls.gov/ilc
  22. ^ ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/ForeignLabor/flsgdp.txt
  23. ^ HICP http://www.bls.gov/ilc/flshicpan.pdf
  24. ^ Consumer Prices data, ILC program, BLS
  25. ^ Jessica Sincavage, “International comparisons of harmonized indexes of consumer prices,” Monthly Labor Review, February 2007.
  26. ^ Banister, Judith. Manufacturing employment in China. Monthly Labor Review, July 2005. 11-29.
  27. ^ Banister, Judith. Manufacturing earnings and compensation in China. Monthly Labor Review, Aug 2005. 22-40.
  28. ^ Sincavage, Jessica R., Carl Haub, and O.P. Sharmandia. Labor costs in India’s organized manufacturing sector. Monthly Labor Review, May 2010. 3-22.
  29. ^ Martin, Gary. A portrait of the youth labor market in 13 countries, 1980–2007. Monthly Labor Review, July 2009. 3-21.
  30. ^ Fleck, Susan E. International comparisons of hours worked: an assessment of the statistics. Monthly Labor Review, May 2009. 3-31.
  31. ^ Annual chartbook of international labor comparisons.