CPS Response Rates
This page contains information about CPS response rates over time.
- BLS and Census are developing a new CPS self-response web collection tool. Read More »
How CPS data are collected
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of approximately 60,000 scientifically selected households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Census interviewers contact households by personal visit or telephone to conduct interviews during a specific collection period so that BLS can publish timely information about the U.S. labor market, including key measures like the unemployment rate.
Each month, Census interviewers attempt to contact a person in each of these eligible households to complete a CPS interview. Census will contact each household for 8 monthly interviews over a 16-month period.
Personal visits are typically required the first month the household is in the sample, and they are preferred in the fifth month. In other months, interviews generally are conducted by telephone. Households without a telephone and those that specifically request a personal visit usually receive in-person interviews each month.
At each monthly interview, Census interviewers ask a series of standard questions on work and job search activities during the reference week for each household member 15 years of age or older. The reference week is generally the week that includes the 12th of the month, and Census interviewers usually begin collecting data during the week that includes the 19th of the month.
Because of the crucial role interviewers have in the CPS, a great amount of time and effort is spent maintaining the quality of their work. Interviewers are given intensive training, including classroom lectures, discussion, practice, observation, home-study materials, and on-the-job training. Interviewers receive self-study training each month, as well as periodic refresher training sessions. They also are periodically accompanied by a supervisor during a full day of interviewing to determine how well they carry out their assignments.
See the CPS methods documentation to learn more about the CPS, including survey design, concepts, and questionnaires.
CPS response rates
The response rate represents the share of the sample that responds to or participates in a survey. For the CPS, the response rate is calculated as follows:
Response rate = (# housing units which completed interviews) / (# net housing units eligible for interviews)
Recent trends in CPS survey response
Declining response rates are a growing concern for the CPS as well as many other surveys. BLS and Census continuously monitor CPS response rates. The chart below provides the overall CPS response rate and response rates by month in sample (MIS) since 2013. A large dip in response occurred for all measures in April 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The decline in response rates accelerated during the pandemic.
Response rates vary by month in sample. Interview months 1 and 5 tend to have lower response rates than other months, likely because of the mode of interview. Census field representatives typically make personal visits to collect data for MIS 1 households and prefer to make personal visits for MIS 5 households; data for other MIS households are primarily collected by telephone through computer-assisted interviewing. Interviewers attempting to contact households for the first time (or attempting to contact MIS 5 households for the first time in 8 months) might be less successful at finding someone at home or have a harder time establishing rapport once they contact a household. Thus, MIS 2-4 and 6-8 typically have higher response rates than MIS 1 and 5.
Nonresponse is the failure to obtain the minimum required information from an eligible housing unit in the sample during the survey collection period.
Nonresponse occurs when respondents are unable or unwilling to participate, interviewers are unable to locate addresses or respondents, or when other barriers exist to completing the interview.
How does the CPS measure nonresponse?
For the CPS, the response rate is subtracted from 100 percent to measure nonresponse. For example, if the survey has a response rate of 75 percent it has a nonresponse rate of 25 percent.
Why is it important to measure nonresponse?
We measure nonresponse because it has a direct effect on data quality. If the rate of nonresponse is high, it increases the chance that the final survey estimates may reflect bias. CPS estimates may reflect bias if the characteristics and labor force statuses of nonresponding households differ from those of responding households.
Additionally, 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. Estimates involving many individuals generally have lower standard errors (relative to the size of the estimate) than estimates which are based on a small number of observations. A higher nonresponse rate contributes to an increase in the size of the standard error of estimates since the sample size observed is reduced from that originally sought.
What are the primary reasons for nonresponse in the CPS?
The primary reasons for nonresponse in the CPS include privacy concerns, challenges making contact with respondents, and respondents being unavailable to provide data when contact is made. In cases where making contact with a respondent is the challenge, follow-up contacts are necessary to increase the chances of reaching the respondent. In recent years, it has become more difficult for Census interviewers to reach respondents, either in-person or by telephone.
Ensuring CPS data quality
CPS estimates have remained reliable despite declining response rates. However, a continued decline in the response rate would slowly erode the survey’s ability to detect meaningful change for our measures, particularly for estimates that are based on smaller sample sizes.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in the Standards and Guidelines for Statistical Surveys, instructs statistical agencies to “plan for a nonresponse bias analysis if the expected unit response rate is below 80 percent.” These analyses help to determine where there is potential bias in survey estimates and assess how well the weighting adjustments are able to reduce any bias. The analysis provides transparency about what issues may exist in the data or survey estimates. See the following CPS nonresponse bias analyses:
Maintaining survey response is just one way of ensuring the quality of CPS data. All data collection activities incorporate quality assurance assessments, including reinterviews with data providers, reviews by senior staff, computer-based data checks, and more. Information about the quality of published data is available to users through measures of variance, bias studies, and detailed descriptions of survey methods. Details on these and other steps to measure and ensure data quality can be found in the CPS methods documentation.
CPS response rate improvement plan
What are BLS and Census doing to improve CPS response rates?
BLS and Census are working to address declining response rates by initiating a data collection modernization, intended to increase collection efficiencies and improve methods. This modernization will introduce a new self-response web collection method along with other data collection operational improvements. It also includes research into adaptive design, improved field training, and enhanced survey control systems.
What is the CPS web collection tool?
BLS and Census are working together to develop a new web collection response option. CPS will continue to collect data by personal visit and telephone, but eligible households will also be offered the opportunity to report through a new web reporting system under development by Census.
CPS is making this update to provide an additional reporting option to respondents. Implementing web collection will reduce the effort required of survey respondents and improve collection efficiencies. Relying solely on personal visits and telephone has made it increasingly challenging to reach all respondents, and this has been evident in the declining response rates. The use of these traditional collection modes also has become progressively more expensive, which poses a challenge to the sustainability of the survey.
The development and implementation of this new collection tool will be challenging because CPS is committed to ensuring a successful transition that minimizes mode effects. Mode effects are inherent to the introduction of a new collection mode on a survey of this complexity. CPS plans to devote considerable resources to the evaluation and testing of an updated self-administered web questionnaire designed to minimize respondent burden and mode effects. Planning and development for this project will take place over a number of years, with an expected introduction to the survey in 2027.
For more information on the CPS self-response web collection tool, and updates on development, see Census CPS Modernization.
Last modified date: October 24, 2023