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September 1993, Vol. 116, No. 9
Overhaul of the Current Population Survey
Evaluating changes in the estimates
Chester E. Bowie, Lawrence S. Cahoon, and Elizabeth A. Martin
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is the cornerstone of the U.S. labor market information system. It provides monthly statistics that serve as measures of both current labor force utilization and the overall performance of the economy. The data are used for both cyclical and secular trend analysis and also form the basis for the official U.S. labor force projections. The CPS is also used for a program of special inquiries on particular characteristics of the population and labor force, such as income and poverty, work experience and migration, school enrollment and educational attainment, and fertility. In addition, it is a widely used microdata source for research on a variety of labor market and social science topics.
The survey's most well-known statistic—the monthly national unemployment rate often is used as a prime barometer of the health of the economy. Monthly unemployment rates for States, which are based either directly (for 11 large States) or indirectly (for the remaining States and the District of Columbia) on the CPS, are used in the allocation of Federal funds to local areas.
Recapping the reasons for change
For decades, the CPS has been the worldwide standard for household surveys. Its design, concepts, and operational procedures have served as a model for many other such surveys. Over the past few years, however, the household surveys of some other countries have surpassed the CPS in the use of more modern and innovative survey methods.
The current CPS labor force questionnaire has remained essentially unchanged since the last major revisions in January 1967, which were based in part on recommendations of the 1962 Gordon Committee. Additional revisions were proposed in the late 1970's and 1980's, most notably by the Levitan Commission. No major changes in the questionnaire have been implemented until now, due to the lack of funding for a large overlap sample necessary to assess their effect on the CPS labor force data series.
Current efforts to redesign the questionnaire, which began in 1986, resulted from joint Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics plans for a major redesign of all aspects of the CPS. The CPS redesign plan calls for the introduction of a new labor force questionnaire in January 1994, following a period of field testing and using a 1½-year national overlap sample to estimate the effect of the changes on the labor force estimates. Concurrent with this initiative, attempts are being undertaken to eliminate paper and pencil data collection by adopting integrated computer-assisted interviewing methods. Finally, the redesign involves the selection of new sample areas and housing units from a sample frame developed from the 1990 Decennial Census, in order to account for changes in the population that have occurred since the preceding census. The redesign sample will be phased in gradually starting in April 1994, 4 months following the introduction of the new questionnaire and computerization of the interviewing process.
This excerpt is from an article published in the September 1993 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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Overhaul of the Current Population Survey: Why is it necessary to change? September 1993.
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