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February 2006, Vol. 129, No. 2
Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey
Mary Bowler and Teresa L. Morisi
Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, the Bureau) releases data on current employment in the "Employment Situation" news release. The data come from two different surveys: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the establishment or payroll survey. These data are important indicators of the strength of the labor market and provide an early snapshot of the state of the Nationís economy.
Although both surveys measure employment in the United States, they have different definitions of employment, along with different samples, estimation procedures, and concepts. Despite these differences, the two series track well together over long periods; at times, however, their rates of growth or decline differ significantly. These diverging movements in employment between the two surveys have been researched in the past. Most recently, they gained prominence in the mid- to late 1990s and during the recession and recovery from 2001 to 2004.1 In the mid- to late 1990s, employment from the establishment survey grew faster than employment as measured by the household survey. During the recent recession and postrecession period, establishment survey employment declined for a number of months after the end of the recession, while household survey employment expanded.
Why do these two employment surveys some-times give different pictures of the labor market? There are a number of differences between the two surveys that can be quantified. Other areas of difference, however, are more difficult to measure. This article discusses the various differences and suggests reasons those differences may or may not affect the divergences between the two employment series. The first portion of the article offers a general background on the two surveys and a summary of past research into earlier divergences in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The second portion examines the latest BLS research into the divergences in the mid- to late 1990s through 2004.2
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 2006 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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1 The National Bureau of Economic Research is generally recognized as the arbiter of business-cycle turning points. The organization deter-mined that the latest recession began in March 2001 and ended in November of that year.
2 Since this article was prepared, data for recent years have been subject to routine revisions for seasonal adjustment, household survey population controls, and establishment survey benchmarking. These revisions do not significantly change the discrepancy between the surveys as it is described herein.
Related BLS programs
Current Employment Statistics
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
Moonlighting: a key to differences in measuring employment growth (PDF)óFeb. 1997.
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