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Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
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Frequently asked questions about data on unemployment insurance (UI) applicants, nonapplicants, and benefit recipients

Data on UI applicants and benefit recipients were collected through the UI nonfiler supplement, a special supplemental survey to the May and September 2018 monthly Current Population Survey (CPS). The supplement also collected data for nonapplicants along with reasons for not applying for UI.

 

  1. What supplement data have been published by BLS?

    The supplement data were published in the Characteristics of Unemployment Insurance Applicants and Benefit Recipients news release. The 2018 data, which are averages of May and September data, pertain to unemployed people and people marginally attached to the labor force. Estimates are restricted to people who worked in the past 12 months.

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  3. How are UI benefit applicants defined in the supplement?

    In the supplement, UI applicants are people who are not working who applied for UI benefits since their last job. Whether a person applied for UI benefits was determined through answers to the question:

    Q: Have you applied for unemployment benefits since your last job?

    BLS data on UI benefit applicants and recipients refer to unemployed individuals and people marginally attached to the labor force who had worked in the past 12 months.

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  5. How are UI benefit recipients defined in the supplement?

    In the supplement, UI benefit recipients are applicants who received benefits since their last job. Whether a person received benefits was determined through answers to the question:

    Q: Have you received any unemployment benefits since your last job?

    This question was only asked of people who had applied for UI benefits since their last job. BLS data on applicants and benefit recipients refer to unemployed individuals and people marginally attached to the labor force who had worked in the past 12 months.

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  7. What information do you have about nonapplicants—people who did not apply for UI benefits?

    The Characteristics of Unemployment Insurance Applicants and Benefit Recipients news release tables show demographic information and characteristics of the last job for people who did not apply for UI benefits. The news release also describes the reasons these nonapplicants did not apply for benefits.

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  9. How did you measure the reasons why people didn't apply for UI benefits?

    There were three main questions used to determine why people didn't apply for UI benefits. People who had not applied for unemployment benefits since their last job were asked why they didn't apply. The questions are listed below.

    For the first question, the interviewer did not read a list of reasons, but entered the reason provided by the person answering the survey and then asked if there was another reason.

    QA. There are a variety of reasons why people might not apply for unemployment benefits. What are the reasons you have not applied for unemployment benefits since your last job? [Interviewer does not read options out loud, but marks all that apply and probes: Was there another reason?]

    A follow-up question obtained more detailed reasons from people who didn't think they were eligible for benefits (those with a response of "Did not think eligible" in QA).

    QB. Why didn't you believe you were eligible for unemployment benefits?

    People who provided more than one reason that they didn't apply for unemployment benefits (in QA) were asked to identify which was their main reason.

    QC. Of the reasons you just mentioned, what is the main reason you did not apply for UI benefits?

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  11. How were the reasons people didn't apply for UI benefits summarized in the news release?

    The responses to the questions about why people didn't apply for UI benefits were grouped into the following categories. Each person was assigned to one category based on the main reason they did not apply for UI benefits.

    Eligibility issues

    • Job separation type (quit, misconduct, etc.) or work not covered by UI — includes reasons such as they voluntarily left their last job or retired, they were fired from their last job, or they were self-employed or an independent contractor on their last job
    • Insufficient past work — includes reasons such as they didn't earn or work enough, they worked part time on their last job, or they didn't have a recent job
    • Previous exhaustion of benefits — includes reasons such as they had used up or exhausted prior UI benefits
    • Any other reason concerning eligibility — includes reasons such as they didn't qualify, they were told they were not eligible by their former employer or office, they received severance pay, and any other response related to not being eligible

    Attitude about or barrier to applying for UI benefits

    • Do not need the money or do not want the hassle — includes reasons such as they did not need the money, they didn't expect the benefits to be large enough or last long enough, or they thought it was too much work or hassle to apply or meet the requirements
    • Negative attitude about UI — includes reasons such as UI benefits were too much like charity or welfare and they didn't want to apply
    • Do not know about UI or do not know how to apply — includes reasons such as they didn't know benefits existed, didn't know where or how to apply, or weren't given any information from their last employer about how to apply
    • Problems with application process — includes reasons such as the application process was too confusing, technical, or difficult to understand; they tried to get assistance with the application but couldn't get help; they tried to file by phone or Internet but the application system wasn't functioning; they had transportation problems; they had no telephone, computer, or Internet access to apply; or that the application or assistance was not available in their language

    Other reasons for not applying for UI benefits

    • Expect to start working soon — includes reasons such as they expect to start a new job, expect to be recalled to work soon, or are seeking work or working now
    • Did not apply for personal reasons — includes reasons such as they were students, were having or taking care of children, had a disability or medical condition, or were not looking for work
    • Plan to file soon — includes reasons such as they planned to file soon
    • All other reasons — includes any other reason, such as they were worried that applying might impact future jobs, they had moved or were about to move, or they expected their application to be rejected

    Reason not provided — some people did not answer this question

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  13. Why are BLS estimates for the unemployed and people marginally attached to the labor force restricted to people who worked in the past 12 months?

    Only people who have previously worked are eligible for UI benefits, and they generally must apply shortly after their last job.

    BLS data about applying for or receiving UI benefits refer to people who had worked in the past 12 months. In 2018, nearly two-thirds of the unemployed had worked in the last 12 months. Other people, such as the unemployed who entered the labor force for the first time and people who last worked more than a year ago, are not included. However, all unemployed people expecting to be recalled from temporary layoff are included, regardless of whether they worked in the 12 months prior to the survey.

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  14. Does the monthly CPS provide information about UI benefits?

    No. The basic monthly labor force questions in the CPS do not include any information about applying for or receiving UI benefits. The UI nonfiler supplement provides data not available from the monthly CPS.

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  16. Are the monthly estimates of unemployment from the CPS based on the number of people who apply for or receive UI benefits?

    No. The national unemployment rate is not based on the number of people who apply for or receive UI benefits.

    In the CPS, people are classified as unemployed if they were not working, were available for work, and had actively looked for work during the past month. Because the CPS concept of unemployment is broad in scope and is largely based on job search activity, it includes:

    • People who are not eligible for benefits
    • People who have exhausted their benefits
    • People who do not apply for benefits

    Learn more about How the Government Measures Unemployment.

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  18. Are the UI nonfiler supplement data comparable to the UI claims data?

    No. Data from the supplement and the claims data from the UI program do not yield similar estimates of the number of people applying for or receiving benefits.

    Every week, the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) reports the number of people filing initial and continuing claims for UI benefits. These administrative program data are assembled by ETA from the state UI programs. The measure derived from the UI administrative data is a weekly census of people in the UI system, the vast majority of whom are currently receiving benefits.

    The supplement data refer to people who applied for benefits since their last job. People who applied were then asked if they received benefits since their last job. These survey data were published in the Characteristics of Unemployment Insurance Applicants and Benefit Recipients news release.

    The estimates from the two sources differ due to a number of factors, including conceptual and methodological differences. For example, the scope of the UI administrative claims data is different from that of the supplement. In some cases, people who are working may apply for and receive UI program benefits if their hours were reduced; these employed people are included in the UI claims data. In the supplement, the questions about UI benefits were not asked of employed people. In addition, people who have exhausted their benefits are not included in the UI claims data but may be included in the supplement data.

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  20. Where can I find more information about the UI benefits program?

    Administrative data on initial and continuing UI claims are maintained by the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA). Additional information can be found at: oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/.

    For assistance in applying for UI benefits, contact your state UI program.

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  22. Are the UI nonfiler supplement data on UI applicants, nonapplicants, and benefit recipients available for states, cities, or local areas?

    No. Because of the relatively small sample sizes in most states, BLS does not plan to produce subnational estimates from the UI nonfiler supplement.

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  24. Will the UI nonfiler supplement data on UI applicants, nonapplicants, and benefit recipients be available as CPS public use microdata?

    Yes. Data from the UI nonfiler supplement are available from the U.S. Census Bureau's DataWeb FTP page. As with all CPS microdata, personally identifiable information is removed.

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  26. Is this the first CPS supplement to collect data on UI applicants, nonapplicants, and benefit recipients?

    Previous supplements collected data on UI applicants, nonapplicants, and benefit recipients in 2005, 1993, 1989, and 1976.

    The 2018 supplement marks the first time since 1976 that BLS has been involved in collection, analysis, and dissemination of CPS data on UI applicants, nonapplicants, and benefit recipients.

    The 2018 estimates are not strictly comparable with those from prior years. Changes in survey methods affect the comparability of estimates over time. For example, the questions were not the same in all supplements. Also, collection periods differed across supplements, and the supplements were not always administered to the full CPS sample.

    Other factors should also be considered when analyzing the data. Different points in the business cycle, changes in state UI laws, and the seasonal nature of applying for UI benefits can further complicate comparisons of data over time.

    Additional information on the historical comparability of data from the supplement can be found in the news release Technical Note.

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  28. Why did BLS reissue the news release?

    BLS discovered errors with the Characteristics of Unemployment Insurance Applicants and Benefit Recipients news release (originally published on September 25, 2019). The news release was reissued on November 7, 2019, to correct errors in tables 1, 2, and 3 and in the text of the release. The estimates in the original news release were not correctly restricted to unemployed people who worked in the last 12 months, but also included unemployed people who had worked more than 12 months ago. Estimates in the reissued release have been restricted to unemployed people who worked in the past 12 months.

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  30. What corrections were made to the estimates?

    The Characteristics of Unemployment Insurance Applicants and Benefit Recipients news release, originally issued on September 25, 2019, contained errors in tables 1, 2, and 3 and in the text of the release. The estimates in the original news release were not correctly restricted to unemployed people who worked in the last 12 months, but also included unemployed people who had worked more than 12 months ago.

    Estimates in the news release reissued on November 7, 2019, have been restricted to unemployed people who worked in the past 12 months. After this correction, the number of unemployed people who had worked in the past 12 months was 3.7 million, rather than 5.3 million as originally published. The corrected number of unemployed who had applied for UI benefits was 947,000, instead of 1.2 million as originally published.

    Although estimates of numbers of the unemployed and the numbers of UI applicants changed considerably, most percentages derived from those levels showed little meaningful difference, and the key analytical findings in this news release were largely unaffected. The corrected proportion of unemployed people who applied for UI benefits was 26 percent for those who worked in the past 12 months, compared with 23 percent as originally published. The share of the unemployed who applied for UI benefits remained roughly 1 in 4.

    Estimates of people marginally attached to the labor force, including all data in tables 4 and 5, were unaffected by the error.

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    Last Modified Date:February 3, 2020