Work Experience Technical Note
Last Modified Date: December 18, 2012
The data presented in this release were collected in the Annual Social and Economic
Supplement (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a monthly sample
survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Data from the CPS are used to obtain the monthly estimates of the nation's employment and
unemployment levels. The supplement, conducted in the months of February through April,
includes questions about work activity during the prior calendar year. For instance, data
collected in 2012 refer to the 2011 calendar year. Because the reference period is a full
year, the number of persons with some employment or unemployment greatly exceeds the average
levels for any given month, which are based on a 1-week reference period, and the corresponding
annual average of the monthly estimates. As shown below, for example, the number experiencing
any unemployment during 2011 was about twice the number unemployed in an average month during
2011 estimates (in thousands)
Annual average of
monthly estimates 139,869 13,747
Annual supplement data 153,479 23,739
In addition, estimates from the supplement differ from those obtained in the basic CPS
because the questions used to classify workers as either employed or unemployed are different.
More important, perhaps, is that fewer questions by which to categorize respondents are asked
in the supplement. In regard to unemployment in particular, the supplement has no questions
on the type of job search activity or on the respondent's availability to work. Also, individuals
can be counted as both employed and unemployed in the work experience supplement data, whereas,
for a specific monthly reference week, each person is only counted in one category and employment
activity takes precedence over job search activity.
Work experience data for 2011, which were collected in the 2012 Annual Social and
Economic Supplement to the CPS, are not strictly comparable with data for 2010 and earlier
years because of the introduction in January 2012 of revised population controls used in
the CPS. The effect of the revised population controls on the work experience estimates
is unknown. However, the effect of the new January 2012 controls on the monthly CPS
estimates was to increase the December 2011 employment level by 216,000 and the unemployment
level by 42,000. Additional information is online at www.bls.gov/cps/documentation.htm#pop.
Reliability of the estimates
Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error.
When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, there is a chance that
the sample estimates may differ from the true population values they represent. The
component of this difference that occurs because samples differ by chance is known as
sampling error, and its variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate.
There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an estimate based on a
sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard errors from the true population value
because of sampling error. BLS analyses are generally conducted at the 90-percent level
The CPS data also are affected by nonsampling error. Nonsampling error can
occur for many reasons, including the failure to sample a segment of the population,
inability to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or
unwillingness of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the
collection or processing of the data.
A full discussion of the reliability of data from the CPS and information on estimating
standard errors is available at www.bls.gov/cps/documentation.htm#reliability.
Concepts and definitions
Persons who worked. In the 2012 supplement, persons are considered to have worked if
they responded "yes" to either the question "Did you work at a job or business at any time
during 2011?" or "Did you do any temporary, part-time, or seasonal work even for a few
days during 2011?"
Unemployed persons. Persons who worked during the year but not in every week are counted
as unemployed if they also reported looking for work or being on layoff from a job during
the year. Those who reported no work activity during the year are considered unemployed if
they responded "yes" to the question "Even though you did not work in 2011, did you spend
any time trying to find a job or on layoff?"
Work-experience unemployment rate. The number of persons unemployed at some point during
the year as a proportion of the number of persons who worked or looked for work during the
Labor force participants. Persons who either worked or were unemployed during the year.
Usual full- and part-time employment. These data refer to the number of hours a worker
typically works during most weeks of the year. Workers are classified as full time if they
usually worked 35 hours or more in a week; part-time employment refers to workers whose
typical workweek was between 1 and 34 hours.
Year-round and part-year employment. Workers are classified as year round if they
worked 50 to 52 weeks. Part-year employment refers to workers who worked fewer than 50 weeks.
Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon
request. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339.