Created in 1884, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been the major federal source for data on labor-related topics in the United States such as prices, unemployment, compensation, productivity, and family expenditures. This essay traces the development and transformation of formal and informal consulting relationships between the BLS and external groups (including academic social scientists, unions, businesses, and other government entities) over the twentieth century. Though such a history cannot, of course, provide a comprehensive analysis of how political values have shaped the construction of labor statistics during this period, I argue that it can nevertheless provide important insights into the political context for the construction of knowledge about American workers and their living and working conditions.
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