January 2014

Examination of state-level labor turnover survey data

From 1954–1981, the Labor Turnover Survey (LTS) provided labor demand-related data at the state level. For this article, LTS time series data were compared and states were chosen based on the length of their LTS series, continuity of series, and the geographic representation. Florida, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Virginia were selected, and the data analyzed both from the business cycle perspective and for specific economic events in those states. The discussion includes LTS methodology and definitions of the data elements produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the states. The article also discusses the differences in definitions and methodology between the LTS and the current Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey program.

The current Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) program began in 1998, with data publication beginning in 2002 with the December 2000 data. However, a similar program called the Labor Turnover Survey (LTS) existed from 1930 to 1981. The earlier LTS provided data at the state level beginning in 1957. The JOLTS program frequently receives requests for historical data. The LTS data were collected at the state and state Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) levels for varying lengths of time.


The LTS program was started by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1926 “to provide personnel managers with a national benchmark of turnover rates in manufacturing plants.”1 The survey was turned over to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 1929. BLS began collecting monthly national-level LTS data in 1930. Concurrently, a number of State Employment Security Agencies (SESAs) were also collecting labor turnover data.

In 1954, the state of Connecticut entered into a cooperative agreement with BLS to jointly collect state-level LTS data. By 1964, the cooperative program covered all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and many MSAs.2

From August 1957 through November 1981, state-level accession rates and separation rates were published in the BLS Employment and Earnings. (Accessions are defined as the total number of permanent and temporary additions to the employment roll, including both new and rehired employees, and separations as terminations of employment during the calendar month.) The data elements initially published included total accession rates and separation rates encompassing quit, discharge, layoff, and miscellaneous other separation rates, such as military.3 By the time the LTS was discontinued in 1981, accession rates were produced with the two subcomponents of new hire and recall rates, while separation rates included quit and layoff rates. The LTS also produced job opening rates from 1969–1973. Data collection for the LTS program was discontinued in 1981 because of budget reductions.4

Applications of state data

Historical labor turnover statistics were used for labor market analysis and research. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) regarded the layoff, accession, and quit rates as leading economic indicators. Layoff rates and accession rates were included in the list of economic indicators for 22 years from 1959 until both series were discontinued in December 1981. Layoff rates were included in the composite indexes from 1976 through 1981. Quit rates were included in the list of economic indicators from 1976 until it was discontinued in December 1981. Additionally, the NBER considered the job vacancies series a coincident indicator (called roughly coincident). The job vacancy rate was included in the list of economic indicators from April 1971 until they were discontinued in May 1974. The NBER lists of leading, coincident, and lagging indicators were published first in the Business Cycle Developments monthly report from 1959 through October 1968 and then in the Business Conditions Digest from November 1968 through the beginning of 1990.5


1 Carol M. Utter, “Labor turnover in manufacturing: the survey in retrospect,” Monthly Labor Review (June 1982), p. 15–17,

2 Ibid.

3 Monthly labor turnover rates in manufacturing for selected states and areas were initially published in the August 1957 edition. See Employment and Earnings 4, no. 2 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 1957), p. 32,

4 Employment and Earnings 29, no. 1 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 1982), p. 1,

5 The U.S. Census Bureau published the National Bureau of Economic Research data from 1959 through October 1968 in the Business Cycle Developments monthly report, In 1968, the report was renamed the Business Conditions Digest. Beginning in 1972, the publication was produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis; see

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About the Author

Katherine Bauer

Katherine Bauer is an economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.