Executive Suite: Erica Groshen, U.S. labor statistics chief

Erica Groshen, the new commissioner of the Bureau

Erica Groshen, the new commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sits outside the agency offices in Washington, D.C. Groshen lives in Great Neck. (Feb. 11, 2013) (Credit: Polaris / Evelyn Hockstein)

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

bio | email

Economist Erica L. Groshen, a Great Neck resident and former New York Federal Reserve Bank vice president, has assumed the helm of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency best known for its monthly employment report and consumer price surveys. It is part of the U.S. Department of Labor.

President Barack Obama nominated her for the post. After unanimous approval by the Senate, Groshen, 58, was sworn in this past  month.

At the New York Fed, Groshen, who has a doctorate in economics from Harvard University, focused on the effects of recessions on labor markets and employers' role in those markets.

How does it feel to be commissioner?

I'm honored to lead the BLS at this time of renewed interest in the labor market and the statistics that help us understand it. Personally, I will say that it's an economist's dream to head an agency that produces the information that measures such an important aspect of people's lives.

Do you know how many other women have held the post?

I am the fourth female BLS commissioner.

What are your primary goals for the agency?

I plan to continue the BLS tradition of excellence in informing the country on relevant and timely issues in labor statistics. I look forward to helping guide the BLS as it adapts to a changing environment and develops new data products that answer the questions relevant to a 21st-century economy.

For example, what jobs are being created in today's rapidly changing labor market? Job-seekers, students, career counselors and training specialists need very current information about which jobs are growing. To help meet this need, the BLS has introduced a Web-optimized, frequently updated version of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which replaces what used to be a hard copy book that was revised every five years. A Spanish language version has just been released.

Where did you grow up?

Mostly in Brooklyn, but it took us a while to settle down before that. My father was in the U.S. Foreign Service when I was born, so I lived abroad for my first nine years. After being born in Germany, I lived my first year in France and then lived in Spain until I turned 9. After that, we lived in Arkansas for one year and then moved to Brooklyn, where I stayed put until I left for college.

How long have you lived on Long Island?

My family and I moved to Long Island the summer of 1993. We spent our first year in Manhasset and moved to Great Neck the next year.

When did you know you wanted to become an economist?

As I started college, I knew that I wanted to help understand key social issues, but I was not sure how to do that. During my sophomore year in college, I took an intro economics course. I discovered that I loved the way economics asks and answers questions, and I liked the career paths it would open for me. So I decided to join the economics "tribe." Before that, I had no idea what economists did.

What were your biggest accomplishments at the Fed?

I'm very proud of the labor market research that I have done at the Fed -- helping to understand jobless recoveries and the role of employers in the labor market. For example, I have shown how new human-resource practices such as lean staffing may contribute to jobless recoveries after recessions; documented large, persistent wage differences between employers for very similar workers and evaluated reasons for these differences; and showed how [companies'] tendency to be segregated by sex contributes substantially to the male-female wage differential.

Other things you're proud of?

I'm also proud of helping to launch the Liberty Street Economics blog [a New York Fed blog of analyses and insights]; provide mortgage delinquency data to local communities; expand regional outreach and start the New York Census Research Data Center.

At the beginning of the mortgage crisis, my unit used data we had at the Fed to post the first maps on the Web that showed which neighborhoods were most affected. My group also started a series of regional press briefings to share the N.Y. Fed's regional research more broadly with the public.

The NYCRDC [located at Baruch College] offers qualified researchers a place where they can do unique, pathbreaking research on social and economic issues using detailed data from the U.S. Census. This facility was started by a consortium of 13 research universities from the region.

EXECUTIVE SNAPSHOT

Name: Erica L. Groshen, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C.

What the bureau does: It collects, analyzes and publishes data. Best known for its monthly employment and consumer-price index reports.

Employees: About 2,500

Budget: $609 million in fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30.