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Economic News Release
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Characteristics of Unemployment Insurance Applicants and Benefit Recipients Technical Note

Technical Note

The data presented in this news release were collected through a supplement to the February and May 2022
Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 eligible households that
provides data on employment and unemployment for the nationís civilian noninstitutional population age
16 and over. The CPS is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The U.S. Department of Laborís Chief Evaluation Office sponsored the collection of the February and May
2022 supplement to obtain information about the number and characteristics of those who do and do not
file for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, as well as information on those who receive benefits.
These data provide information not available from the UI program administrative data or the monthly CPS.

One of the most persistent misconceptions about the CPS unemployment measure is that it is based on the
number of people who apply for or receive UI benefits. However, data on UI program participation cannot
be used to determine unemployment because the CPS concept includes people who are not eligible for
benefits, who have exhausted their benefits, and who do not apply for benefits. The monthly CPS does not
include questions about UI participation.

Only people who have previously worked are eligible for UI benefits, and they generally must apply 
shortly after separating from their last job. Therefore, estimates presented in this news release are
restricted to people who had worked at some point in the 12 months prior to the survey. In 2022, about
two-thirds of the unemployed had worked in the last 12 months. Other unemployed people, including those
who entered the labor force for the first time and those who last worked more than a year ago, are
excluded from this news release.

The estimates in this release--referred to as 2022 estimates--are weighted averages of data collected in
February and May 2022. Data are weighted to produce nationally representative estimates. The supplement
weights are controlled to population estimates that are averaged over the 2 months. May data are 
disproportionately represented in the estimates because two-thirds of the data were collected in May,
when the full CPS sample received the supplement questions. One-half of the CPS sample was asked these
questions in February.

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Definitions

The principal definitions used in this news release are described below. Additional information about
CPS concepts and definitions is available on the BLS website at www.bls.gov/cps/definitions.htm.

Unemployed who worked in the past 12 months. In the CPS, people are classified as unemployed if they
were not employed during the survey reference week; were available for work during the survey reference
week (except for temporary illness); and had made at least one specific, active effort to find employment
sometime during the 4-week period ending with the survey reference week. People who were waiting to be
recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified
as unemployed.

Data in this news release exclude unemployed people with no previous work experience and those who last
worked more than 12 months prior to the survey. However, all unemployed persons expecting to be recalled
from temporary layoff are included, regardless of whether they worked in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Marginally attached to the labor force who worked in the past 12 months. People marginally attached to 
the labor force are those who are neither employed nor unemployed, who want a job, have searched for work
during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the survey reference week, but had 
not looked for work in the 4-week period ending with the survey reference week. If they had looked for 
work in the 4-week period, they would be counted as unemployed.

Data in this news release on people marginally attached to the labor force refer to those who worked 
in the past 12 months, a subset of total marginally attached.

Unemployment Insurance (UI). The federal-state UI program provides unemployment benefits to eligible 
workers (as determined under state law). The UI payments (benefits) are intended to provide temporary
financial assistance to unemployed workers. Each state administers a separate UI program within guidelines
established by federal law. Eligibility for UI benefits, amounts, and the length of time benefits are 
available are determined by the state law under which UI claims are established. For more information about
state UI programs, visit https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/uifactsheet.asp.

UI benefit applicants. In the CPS, UI applicants are people who applied for UI benefits since separating
from their last job. Whether a person applied for UI benefits was determined through answers to the 
question: "Have you applied for unemployment benefits since your last job?" Data in this news release 
refer to unemployed individuals and people marginally attached to the labor force who had worked in the
past 12 months.

UI benefit recipients. In the CPS, these individuals are UI applicants who received UI benefits since 
separating from their last job. This information was obtained from the following question: "Have you 
received any unemployment benefits since your last job?" This question was asked of people who had applied
for UI benefits since their last job. Data in this news release refer to unemployed individuals and people
marginally attached to the labor force who had worked in the past 12 months.

Union coverage on last job. Data in this news release refer both to union members and to those who were
covered by a union contract on their last job. Union coverage on the last job is based on the question:
"Were you a union member or covered by a union contract on your last job?"

Main reason for not applying for UI benefits. This information is based on responses to the question: 
"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?" Interviewers could record more than
one reason. If respondents provided more than one reason, interviewers asked which was their main reason.

Comparability of the estimates

Previous supplements collected data on UI applicants and benefit recipients in 2018, 2005, 1993, 1989,
and 1976. The 2022 supplement questions used to identify UI applicants and benefit recipients were similar
to the 2018 and 2005 supplements but were different from questions used in earlier years.

The 2022 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 all CPS respondents. For example, the 2022 supplement was collected in 2 nonconsecutive
months (February and May). Data in February were collected from half of the CPS sample, and data in May
were collected from the full CPS sample. In contrast, the supplement in 2018 was collected in May and
September from the full CPS sample. The supplements for 2005, 1993, and 1989 were collected in 4 different
months, and the questions were asked of about one-fourth of the CPS sample (the outgoing rotations).
(Specifically, the 2005 supplement data were collected in January, May, July, and November; the 1993 
supplement was administered in February, June, August, and November; and the 1989 supplement was conducted 
in May, August, and November 1989 and in February 1990.) The 1976 supplement was administered to the full
sample in May 1976.

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. For example, the unemployment rate in 2022 was relatively low by historical
standards, and partially reflected economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors may impact
the number and characteristics of people who apply for UI benefits.

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.

General information about the reliability of data from the CPS is available at 
www.bls.gov/cps/documentation.htm#reliability.



Last Modified Date: March 29, 2023