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Economic News Release
CPS CPS Program Links

Employee Tenure Technical Note

Technical Note

The data in this release were collected through a supplement to the January 2022
Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS, which is conducted by the U.S. Census
Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), is a monthly survey of about 60,000
eligible households that provides information on the labor force status, 
demographics, and other characteristics of the nation's civilian noninstitutional
population age 16 and over.

The January 2022 CPS supplement, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of 
Labor, obtained information on worker displacement and workers' tenure with their
current employer. The data on worker displacement are online at 

Updated population controls for the CPS are introduced annually with the release of
the January data. Additional information about population controls is available on
the BLS website at 

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 
to access telecommunications relay services.

Reliability of the estimates

Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error. 
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. There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an
estimate based on a sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard errors from 
the true population value because of sampling error. BLS analyses are generally 
conducted at the 90-percent level of confidence.

The CPS data also are affected by nonsampling error.  Nonsampling error can occur 
for many reasons, including the failure to sample a segment of the population, 
inability to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or 
unwillingness of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the
collection or processing of the data. 

Information about the reliability of data from the CPS and guidance on estimating
standard errors is available at 

Concepts and questions

Employee tenure is a measure of how long wage and salary workers had been with 
their current employer at the time of the survey. Many of the estimates shown in 
this report are medians; the median is the point at which half of all workers had 
more tenure and half had less tenure. Data refer to the sole or principal job of 
full- and part-time workers.

Wage and salary workers receive wages, salaries, commissions, tips, payment in kind,
or piece rates. The group includes employees in both the private and public sectors
but excludes all self-employed persons, both those with incorporated businesses as
well as those with unincorporated businesses.

In the CPS supplement, questions on tenure were asked of all employed persons. The
main question was: "How long has ... been working continuously for (fill in name of
present employer)?"

               _____ Days
               _____ Weeks
               _____ Months
               _____ Years

For responses of "1 year" or "2 years," a follow-up question was asked: "Could you
please give the exact number of months?"

The purpose of the follow-up question is to obtain more precise information on 
workers who had been with their current employer for a relatively short time. This 
follow-up question was included for the first time in the February 1996 CPS 
supplement on worker displacement and tenure. CPS supplements that obtained 
information on tenure in January of 1983, 1987, and 1991 did not include the 
follow-up question. In those surveys, responses of 1 year or more could be coded only
as the nearest full year, and responses of less than a year were coded as the nearest
full month. Currently, the 2-year category includes 24 to 29 months, and the 3-year
category includes 2.5 to 3.5 years.

Prior to January 1983, CPS supplements on tenure asked wage and salary workers, 
"When did ... start working at (his/her) present job?" For wage and salary workers,
the meaning of the term "job" is ambiguous. For example, a worker who had been 
employed at a particular company for 10 years and had been promoted to a managerial 
position 1 year prior to the survey may have been counted as having 10 years or 1 year
of tenure, depending on whether the respondent interpreted the question to mean tenure
with the current employer or tenure in the managerial position. To rectify this 
ambiguity, the wording of the question was changed in January 1983 to specify the 
length of time a worker had been with his or her current employer. The change resulted
in a break in historical comparability.

Interpreting tenure data

Data on tenure have been used as a gauge of employment security, with some observers 
regarding increases in tenure as a sign of improving security and decreasing tenure as
a sign of deteriorating security. However, there are limitations to using the data in
this way. For example, during recessions or other periods of declining job security,
median tenure and the proportion of workers with long tenure could rise if less-senior 
workers are more likely to lose their jobs than are workers with longer tenure.

During periods of economic growth, median tenure and the proportion of workers with
long tenure could fall if more job opportunities are available for new entrants to 
the workforce and experienced workers have more opportunities to change employers and 
take better jobs. Tenure also could rise under improving economic conditions, however,
as fewer layoffs occur and good job matches develop between workers and employers.

A changing age distribution among workers would also affect median tenure. Since older
workers are more likely to have long tenure with their current employer than younger 
workers, aging baby boomers in the workforce would provide upward pressure on overall 
median tenure.

Last Modified Date: September 22, 2022