Work Experience Technical Note
Last Modified Date: December 09, 2016
The data presented in this release were collected in the Annual Social and
Economic Supplement (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a
monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households, conducted by the U.S.
Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Data from the CPS
are used to obtain the monthly estimates of the nation's employment and unemployment
levels. The ASEC, conducted in the months of February through April, includes
questions about work activity during the prior calendar year. For instance, data
collected in 2016 refer to the 2015 calendar year. Because the reference period
is a full year, the number of persons with some employment or unemployment greatly
exceeds the average levels for any given month, which are based on a 1-week
reference period, and the corresponding annual average of the monthly estimates.
As shown below, for example, the number experiencing any unemployment was about
twice the number unemployed in an average month during the year.
2015 estimates (in thousands)
Annual average of
monthly estimates 148,834 8,296
Annual supplement data 162,329 16,925
In addition, estimates from the supplement differ from those obtained in the
basic CPS because the questions used to classify workers as either employed or
unemployed are different. More important, perhaps, is that the supplement contains
fewer questions for categorizing respondents. In regard to unemployment in particular,
the supplement has no questions on the type of job search activity or on the respondent's
availability to work. Also, individuals can be counted as both employed and unemployed
in the work experience supplement data, whereas, for a specific monthly reference
week, each person is only counted in one category and employment activity takes
precedence over job search activity.
The data presented in this release are not strictly comparable with data for
earlier years due to the introduction of updated population controls used in
the CPS. The population controls are updated each year in January to reflect the
latest information about population change. Additional information is available at
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
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.
A full discussion of the reliability of data from the CPS and information on esti-
mating standard errors is available at www.bls.gov/cps/documentation.htm#reliability.
Concepts and definitions
The principle concepts and definitions used in connection with the data in this
release are described briefly below.
Persons who worked. In the 2016 supplement, persons are considered to have worked
if they responded "yes" to either the question "Did you work at a job or business at
any time during 2015?" or "Did you do any temporary, part-time, or seasonal work even
for a few days during 2015?"
Unemployed persons. Persons who worked during the year but not in every week are
counted as unemployed if they also reported looking for work or being on layoff from a
job during the year. Those who reported no work activity during the year are considered
unemployed if they responded "yes" to the question "Even though you did not work in
2015, did you spend any time trying to find a job or on layoff?"
Work-experience unemployment rate. The number of persons unemployed at some point
during the year as a proportion of the number of persons who worked or looked for work
during the year.
Labor force participants. Persons who either worked or were unemployed during the
Usual full- and part-time employment. These data refer to the number of hours a
worker typically works during most weeks of the year. Workers are classified as full
time if they usually worked 35 hours or more in a week; part-time employment refers to
workers whose typical workweek was between 1 and 34 hours.
Year-round and part-year employment. Workers are classified as year round if they
worked 50 to 52 weeks. Part-year employment refers to workers who worked fewer than
Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals
upon request. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339.