Frequently Asked Questions

On this Page:

  1. What kind of information does the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program provide?
  2. For what time periods are data available?
  3. How are the labor force components (i.e., civilian labor force, employed, unemployed, and unemployment rate) defined?
  4. What is the American Community Survey (ACS), and what is the relationship between the LAUS and ACS labor force estimates?
  5. What are metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas?
  6. What are labor market areas (LMAs)?
  7. What is the publication schedule for LAUS program news releases?
  8. Why aren't data for all areas (the nation, states, and substate areas) available at the same time?
  9. Why are labor force estimates for subnational areas different between the LAUS program and the Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment (GP)?
  10. What is the difference between job losers and the unemployed?
  11. What is the Current Population Survey (CPS)?
  12. What are "household" and "establishment" data, and how do they differ?
  13. What are some of the administrative uses of LAUS data?
  14. What is seasonal adjustment?
  15. What methodology is used to produce the various estimates published by the LAUS program?
  16. Why are not all the detailed data available at the national level also available at the state, metropolitan area, county, and city levels?
  17. What is the "Handbook" method?
  18. What are "population controls"?
  19. What does the term "benchmarked" mean?
  20. What does the term "model-based" mean, and what are "signal-plus-noise" models?
  21. Who should I contact if I have additional questions?

What kind of information does the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program provide?

The LAUS program provides monthly and annual average estimates of civilian labor force, employment, unemployment, and the unemployment rate for about 7,500 subnational areas. The areas include census regions and divisions, states, metropolitan areas, metropolitan divisions, micropolitan areas, combined areas, small labor market areas, counties and county equivalents, cities with a population of 25,000 and over, and all cities and towns in New England regardless of population. These data constitute the LA series in LABSTAT, the time series database of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For a more detailed description of the LAUS areas, see Geographic Concepts.

For what time periods are data available?

The LAUS monthly series start in January 1976 for census regions and divisions, all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale Metropolitan Division, and New York city. Series for most substate areas begin in January 1990. The most notable exceptions are cities that crossed the 25,000-population threshold for inclusion in the LAUS program after 2000 or 2010. These generally were carried back to their decennial base year (i.e., 2000 or 2010) at the time that they were added.

How are the labor force components (i.e., civilian labor force, employed, unemployed, and unemployment rate) defined?

The concepts and definitions used by the LAUS program are the same as those used in the Current Population Survey for the national labor force data:

  • Civilian labor force. Included are all persons in the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and older classified as either employed or unemployed. (See the definitions below.)
  • Employed persons. These are all persons who, during the reference week (the week including the 12th day of the month), (a) did any work as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of their family, or (b) were not working but who had jobs from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job.
  • Unemployed persons. Included are all persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4 week-period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.
  • Unemployment rate. The unemployed percent of the civilian labor force [i.e., 100 times (unemployed/civilian labor force)].

See Concepts and Definitions for additional information.

What is the American Community Survey (ACS), and what is the relationship between the LAUS and ACS labor force estimates?

The American Community Survey (ACS) produces information on social, housing, and economic characteristics—including labor force status—for demographic groups in local areas. One-year estimates for local areas with populations of 65,000 or more are published about nine months following the reference year.

The LAUS program produces the official monthly estimates of labor force and unemployment for subnational areas. LAUS estimates are consistent with and controlled to the official labor force and unemployment measures for the U.S. from the Current Population Survey. LAUS statewide estimates are published about 3 weeks following the reference month, while LAUS substate data are published about 4–5 weeks following the reference month.

For more information on the ACS and how its data compare to LAUS data, see American Community Survey (ACS) Questions and Answers.

What are metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas?

Metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas are Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) maintained by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide nationally consistent delineations for collecting, tabulating, and publishing federal statistics for a set of geographic areas. A CBSA is a geographic entity associated with at least one urban area core of 10,000 or more population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties. Metropolitan areas have urban area cores of at least 50,000 population, while micropolitan areas have cores of between 10,000 and 49,999 population.

Updates to the standards for delineating areas occur each decade following the census. For the standards used by OMB to revise areas following the 2010 Census, see the Federal Register notice dated June 28, 2010. The updated areas based on the application of these standards to population data from the 2010 Census and commutation data from the American Community Survey were issued on February 28, 2013, through OMB Bulletin No. 13-01, Revised Delineations of Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Micropolitan Statistical Areas, and Combined Statistical Areas, and Guidance on Uses of the Delineations of These Areas.

For more information on the statistical areas maintained by OMB, see Federal Statistical Area Delineations.

What are labor market areas (LMAs)?

A general definition for a labor market area is an economically integrated area within which individuals can reside and find employment within a reasonable distance or can readily change jobs without changing their place of residence. LMAs include both the metropolitan and micropolitan areas defined by the Office of Management and Budget and the small labor market areas maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The criteria used to delineate small labor market areas are available at www.bls.gov/lau/laugeo.htm#geolma. For the compositions of individual LMAs (metropolitan, micropolitan, and small LMAs, plus metropolitan divisions), refer to the labor market area list.

What is the publication schedule for LAUS program news releases?

The Regional and State Employment and Unemployment news release generally is issued on the third Friday of the month following the reference month. The Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment news release generally is issued 12 days later. Data for all substate areas also are published in the time series database at the time of the metropolitan area news release. Current-year schedules for these news releases are maintained on the website at www.bls.gov/schedule/news_release/laus.htm (state) and www.bls.gov/schedule/news_release/metro.htm (metropolitan area).

Why aren't data for all areas (the nation, states, and substate areas) available at the same time?

The timing of data availability is controlled by the length of time required to produce and validate estimates. Data for the nation, which come directly from the Current Population Survey, are available earliest; data for census regions and divisions and states are available next, generally about two weeks later; data for metropolitan areas and divisions, micropolitan areas, combined areas, counties, cities, and New England towns are available after about another week and a half.

Why are labor force estimates for subnational areas different between the LAUS program and the Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment (GP)?

The LAUS program is the official source of civilian labor force and unemployment data for 7,500 subnational areas. LAUS data are used by numerous federal programs to determine eligibility and to allocate funds. Other uses include labor market research, policy analysis, regional planning, and grant proposals. LAUS data are available on a monthly basis for the total population only. As the program is a hierarchy of non-survey methodologies, no demographic or economic characteristic detail (other than the four measures of civilian labor force, employed, unemployed, and unemployment rate) is produced through LAUS.

The Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment, or GP, is an annual bulletin containing subnational data on the demographic and economic characteristics of the labor force from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Data for census regions and divisions are presented in Section I of GP, while data for the 50 states and the District of Columbia are presented in Section II of GP. More limited data (i.e., rates, ratios, and percentage distributions only) for 54 large metropolitan areas, 22 metropolitan divisions, and 41 principal cities, as defined for Census 2000, are presented in Section III of GP. The geographic content of GP reflects what the sample of the CPS can support on an annual-average basis. This is by design of the survey's sample for states (and, by extension, census regions and divisions), but as a by-product of the state sample design of the survey for the large metropolitan areas, metropolitan divisions, and principal cities. At 60,000 households per month nationwide, the CPS sample generally is not large enough to support monthly estimation of even total labor force and unemployment for subnational areas. Furthermore, many of the areas included in the LAUS program have no CPS sample coverage whatsoever, precluding tabulation of data over longer time periods. Nor is the reliability of estimates from the CPS consistent across the areas for which annual-average data can be tabulated and published in GP. Despite these limitations, the CPS-based estimates in GP are the most current source if demographic and economic characteristic detail is sought for subnational areas.

What is the difference between job losers and the unemployed?

People who have lost a job make up a large portion of those classified as unemployed each month. There are also persons who have voluntarily left jobs, persons who have newly entered or re-entered the labor force but not yet found a job, and persons who have recently completed temporary jobs and are seeking new employment. For more information, see Concepts and Definitions.

What is the Current Population Survey (CPS)?

The CPS is a monthly sample survey of approximately 60,000 households (nationally) conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is the source of much key labor market data, including the U.S. unemployment rate. For more information, see the Current Population Survey program homepage.

What are "household" and "establishment" data, and how do they differ?

"Household" data, as from the Current Population Survey (CPS), pertain to individuals and relate to where they reside. "Establishment" data, such as those from the Current Employment Statistics survey of establishments, pertain to jobs (persons on payrolls) by where those jobs are located. The data developed through the LAUS program are based on the household concept of the CPS. For information on these surveys and how they differ, see Household vs. Establishment Series.

What are some of the administrative uses of LAUS data?

LAUS estimates are used by various federal programs that allocate billions of dollars. These include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, Food Stamp limitation waivers, the Public Works Program, the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Labor Surplus Area designation program. Under most programs, data are used to help determine the distribution of funds to be allocated to each eligible area. In the cases of the Food Stamp limitation waivers and Labor Surplus Area designations, the data are used in the determination of area eligibility for benefits. See Administrative Uses of Local Area Unemployment Statistics for the list of known federal uses of LAUS data.

What is seasonal adjustment?

Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, the opening and closing of schools, and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series. This permits easier observation and analysis of cyclical, trend, and other non-seasonal movements in the data. By eliminating seasonal fluctuations, the series becomes smoother, and it is easier to compare data from month to month. In the LAUS program, data for census regions and divisions; the states, the District of Columbia; and Puerto Rico; and the seven substate model-based areas listed in question 20 below are smoothed-seasonally adjusted. For more information, see Smoothed-Seasonally Adjusted Estimates (SSA) Questions and Answers. Data for non-modeled metropolitan areas and metropolitan divisions also are available on a seasonally-adjusted basis in the supplemental tables at www.bls.gov/lau/metrossa.htm.

What methodology is used to produce the various estimates published by the LAUS program?

There are a number of different methods used to produce the estimates. The principal ones are: (1) signal-plus-noise models for states, the District of Columbia, and the seven substate areas listed in question 20 below; (2) a building-block approach known as the Handbook procedure for counties and labor market areas; and (3) disaggregation procedures for cities and other sub-county areas outside of New England. For a description of these procedures and their uses, see LAUS Estimation Methodology.

Why are not all the detailed data available at the national level also available at the state, metropolitan area, county, and city levels?

National data come from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a sample survey of 60,000 households, which provides a wealth of demographic and economic characteristic detail for the U.S. as a whole. The CPS sample is too small to support reliable estimation of even total employed and unemployed for subnational areas on a monthly basis. (For example, not all counties are covered in the CPS sample.) The LAUS program uses non-survey methodologies to estimate total employed and unemployed for subnational areas on a monthly basis, using the national not-seasonally-adjusted estimates from the CPS as controls. No detailed demographic or economic characteristic data are available through these non-survey methodologies. However, on an annual basis, limited demographic and economic characteristic detail tabulated directly from the CPS for census regions and divisions, the states and the District of Columbia, and a handful of large metropolitan areas, metropolitan division, and cities are published in the bulletin Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment.

What is the "Handbook" method?

The Handbook method is a building-block approach using data from several sources—including the Current Population Survey, the Current Employment Statistics program, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, and unemployment insurance systems—to produce labor force estimates at the substate level. Estimates for counties and labor market areas are produced using this methodology. For a description of the Handbook method, see Estimates for Substate Labor Market Areas.

What are "population controls"?

The term "population controls" refers to population data developed from various independent sources, such as vital statistics on births, deaths, migration, school enrollment, persons living in group quarters, inmates in institutions, etc., which are used in Current Population Survey estimation procedures to independently adjust sample-based labor force levels. These are updated annually by the Census Bureau and provided to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The impact on LAUS estimates of new population controls is to proportionately raise or lower the estimates of labor force levels (with unemployment rates, labor force participation rates, and employment-population ratios being unaffected) for census regions and divisions, the states and the District of Columbia, and the seven substate model-based areas and their respective balance-of-state areas. New population controls typically are implemented for the five most recent years of data at the beginning of each year.

What does the term "benchmarked" mean?

Under real-time benchmarking, a tiered approach to estimation is used. Model-based estimates are developed for the nine census divisions that geographically exhaust the nation using signal-plus-noise models. The division models are similar to the state models, but do not use unemployment insurance claims or nonfarm payroll employment as variables. The division estimates are benchmarked to the national levels of employment and unemployment on a monthly basis. The benchmarked division model estimate is then used as the benchmark for the states within the division. The distribution of the monthly benchmark adjustment to the states is based on each state's monthly model estimate. In this manner, the monthly state employment and unemployment estimates add to the national level. Substate estimates in turn are forced to add to the statewide estimates.

What does the term "model-based" mean, and what are "signal-plus-noise" models?

The term "model-based" refers to estimates derived by a statistical model rather than direct sampling. A signal-plus-noise modeling approach is used to estimate employment and unemployment for the census divisions, the states and the District of Columbia, and the following substate areas and their respective balance-of-state areas: the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division; the Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL Metropolitan Division; the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, IL Metropolitan Division; the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI Metropolitan Statistical Area; New York city, NY; the Cleveland-Elyria, OH Metropolitan Statistical Area; and the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA Metropolitan Division. The signal-plus-noise model postulates that the observed Current Population Survey estimate consists of a true, but unobserved, labor force value (the signal) plus noise that reflects the error arising from taking a probability sample rather than a complete census of the population. The modeling process separates the two to produce an estimate of the signal. For a more detailed discussion of the LAUS models, see Estimates for States.

Who should I contact if I have additional questions?

Contact the LAUS Information Staff by e-mail, by telephone at (202) 691-6392, or by FAX at (202) 691-6459.

 

Last Modified Date: August 3, 2015