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Handbook of Methods Current Employment Statistics - National History

Current Employment Statistics - National: History

From its origins in 1915 to today, the Current Employment Statistics-National (CES-N) program expanded and evolved gradually over time. The program has been shaped by advances in technology and statistical methods, user demand, recommendations from numerous presidential commissions and special panels, and changing resource levels. The CES-State and Area (CES-SA) program uses the same sample and collection methods, thus references to CES apply to both CES-N and CES-SA programs.

Hover over the red dot to see historical information.

Major milestones

1915: In October 1915, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) first began to collect employment and payroll data for four manufacturing industries—boots and shoes, cotton goods, cotton finishing, and hosiery and underwear. Data from this survey were published as month-to-month changes in employment and payroll. 

1916: BLS and the State of New York signed the first cooperative agreement, allowing BLS to use sample data collected by New York in its national estimates.  

1916: BLS expanded the CES-N program to publish data for 13 industries with a sample size of 574 establishments, covering 519,185 jobs.

1920: Wisconsin became the second state to sign a cooperative agreement with BLS.

1923: BLS expanded the program to publish 29 additional manufacturing industries, bringing the total to 52 industries. This expansion was largely attributable to recommendations of the Committee on Employment Statistics commissioned by President Warren G. Harding and a subsequent increase in Congressional funding.

1927: Sample size grew to 11,000, and employment and total payroll data were published for 54 manufacturing industries.

1928: Seven additional states signed cooperative agreements with BLS.

1929: Total sample size expanded to 34,000 reporters. Publication started for 11 nonmanufacturing industries. These advances followed recommendations of committees appointed by the American Statistical Association in 1922–23.

1930: A new 6-month shuttle schedule (collection form) replaced the single-month schedule.

1931: The Advisory Committee on Employment Statistics commissioned by President Herbert Hoover issued its report, urging benchmarking to Census of Manufacturing, collection of hours data in manufacturing, and improved sample coverage for new industries and new firms. Congress appropriated additional funding to these expansions beginning in 1932.

1932: Additional published series were added (38 industries in manufacturing and 15 in non-manufacturing), and collection of data on production worker hours began.

1932: Federal civil service employment reporting began.

1932: For production workers in 15 manufacturing industries, BLS published hours and earnings data for the first time.

1932: Sample size increased to 70,000 establishments covering 4.5 million jobs.

1935: The first benchmark of employment to the biennial Census of Manufactures was completed and published. Employment data were republished for 1923 to 1929. The revision was approximately 12 percent.

1935: Congress passed the Social Security Act establishing the unemployment insurance (UI) program.  Employers were required to regularly report employment and payroll data to the states. BLS gained access to these data 5 years later and adopted UI employment data as its primary CES benchmark source.

1935: Series on employment, payrolls, hours, and earnings were published at the national level for total manufacturing, 90 manufacturing industries, and 21 nonmanufacturing industries. 

1936: BLS published an estimate of nonfarm wage and salary employment for the first time at a national level.

1936: Twelve states signed cooperative agreements with BLS. 

1938: A new 12-month shuttle schedule (collection form) replaced the 6-month shuttle schedule.

1940: CES-N published its first UI-based benchmark.

1940: Sample size increased to 148,000 establishments covering 8.4 million workers.

1940–45: BLS developed series specifically designed to provide military and civilian war agencies with data important to the war effort: 67 additional manufacturing industries, straight-time average hourly earnings, spendable earnings, and semiannual data on the number of women production workers in manufacturing). The War and Navy Departments began to use indexes of hourly earnings as the basis of escalator clauses in defense contracts.

1947: The semiannual women workers series was discontinued because of budget cuts.

1947: The 1945 Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system was implemented for manufacturing industries. 

1947: Sample coverage was extended to cover a total of 180 industries, comprising 148,000 establishments and 12.5 million jobs.

1949: BLS signed cooperative agreements with 48 states for the first time.

1949: First comprehensive UI-based benchmark was completed and published. Newly expanded UI-based data made it possible to benchmark all employment levels of industry detail directly.

1950: BLS completed an historical reconstruction effort that resulted in continuous time series back to 1919 for the total nonfarm level and for major industry divisions. Some detailed industry series on employment, hours, and earnings were carried as far back as 1932.

1950: Series on net spendable average weekly earnings was introduced.

1954: BLS began to prepare and publish seasonally adjusted estimates for the first time. The Federal Reserve Board had generated seasonally adjusted estimates before that time.

1954: Publication of the monthly periodical Employment and Earnings began.

1956: CES-N started collection and publication of average weekly overtime hours in manufacturing.

1958: SIC was adopted for all industry series published by BLS. Benchmarks by size became available, allowing for size class stratification of the sample. Estimates of employment at the national level were published for 365 industries and 323 series for private-sector hours and earnings.

1962: The President’s Commission to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics (also known as the Gordon Committee) was created by President John F. Kennedy following charges of political manipulation in a Reader’s Digest article. The commission’s report, “Measuring Employment and Unemployment,” dismissed all charges of political manipulation. It recommended improvements in benchmark data, improved sampling techniques, and publication of estimates of standard error.

1964: A major redesign of the CES sampling method was issued as a technical memorandum to the cooperating State Workforce Agencies. It was the first attempt to put a structure and set of requirements around the CES sample needed for national estimates. Sampling requirements were in the form of sampling ratios by industry and size class. The requirements were designed to approximate a sampling proportional to size design, but did not constitute a probability sample.

1964: CES-N started collection of women employment and hours and earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers in all private-sector industries.

1966: Implementation of the 1964 sample design was completed.

1966: The difference link and taper became the standard estimator for hours and earnings.

1967: First publication of average earnings at the total private level was issued. This was made possible by a sample expansion begun in 1964 in nonmanufacturing industries.

1968: Bias adjustment factors to account for business births not captured by the sample was started. 

1970: Seasonally adjusted estimates of average hourly earnings were issued for the first time. 

1971: First publication of an Hourly Earnings Index for production workers was introduced.

1974: The first publication of diffusion indexes for total private employment occurred.

1975: Sample increased to 160,000 establishments.

1978: CES-N series were converted from the 1967 SIC to the 1972 SIC with some limited historical reconstruction.

1978: Processing on a system producing national estimates was implemented.

1978: A significant expansion of UI coverage to most of state and local government caused a large benchmark revision but improved employment series for these industries.

1979: The National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics (also known as the Levitan Commission) issued its report “Counting the Labor Force” with recommendations for many employment and unemployment statistics programs. For the CES, it criticized the sample design and other statistical underpinnings of the program but urged caution in making changes that might disrupt the time series and other series that used CES as an input. It cited inadequate sample size, lack of quality control, lack of a consistent annual benchmarking process, weak bias factor adjustment techniques, and poor documentation as primary concerns. It recommended expanded publication in the service sector industries, addition of supplements, collection of hours worked data, and collection of data on part-time workers.

1980: CES-N began publishing over 2,800 series data on LABSTAT.

1980: CES-N implemented the Census Bureau’s autoregressive integrated moving average X-11 ARIMA procedure for seasonal adjustment.

1982: CES-N began the practice of benchmarking every year to a UI-based benchmark. Prior to 1982, benchmarking was not done consistently every year, mainly because of delays in UI data processing. This accomplishment fulfilled one of the Levitan Commission recommendations.

1982: The spendable earnings series were discontinued because of scope and concept limitations.  Discontinuation was a specific recommendation of the Levitan Commission.

1982: Real average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers were published by the CES program for the first time.

1983: BLS was given full financial responsibility for the labor market information (LMI) system; UI trust fund money was transferred from the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), and BLS became responsible for administering LMI grants to State Workforce Agencies for BLS programs. Previously, states had received some of their CES program funding directly from BLS, and the remainder of their CES funding from ETA. This transfer of funding for all BLS Federal-State programs was a specific recommendation of the Levitan Commission.

1983: Sample grew to 190,000 establishments.

1984: CES addressed some of the Levitan Commission recommendations by expanding the sample size and beginning publication of 82 additional service-sector industries. In addition, CES began experimenting with a new data collection method, computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), as a precursor to a probability sample redesign, which would require better solicitation and collection methods.

1984: Cyclically sensitive bias adjustment factors were introduced for national all employee series. 

1986: CES began touchtone data entry (TDE) sample collection for selected reporters.

1988: A special average hourly earnings series including lump sum payments began publication for the aerospace industries with data back to 1983. They were intended to be used in escalation clauses.

1988: CES tested voice recognition (VR) as a sample collection method for selected reporters. It did not prove feasible and was stopped after the test period.

1989: Sample expanded to 425,000 establishments covering nearly one-third of universe employment.

1989: New diffusion indexes that included a broader industry base and a new index for manufacturing were first published.

1989: A refined special adjustment technique was introduced for national seasonally adjusted series in selected industries to control for the floating holidays effect from Good Friday and Labor Day.

1989: CES-N switched from annual updating of seasonal factors to semiannual updates for employment, hours, and earnings series.

1990: The CES-N converted estimates from the 1972 SIC to the 1987 SIC basis, including extensive historical reconstruction work.

1991–96: CES received additional permanent funding through the Federal Economic Indicators (FEI) initiative. It was used to fund conversion to automated data collection techniques and expand the sample size and publication detail in the service-producing sector.

1993: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of the CES and Quarterly Census of Wages of Employment and Wages (QCEW) programs after charges of political manipulation followed an unusually large 1991 benchmark revision at the national employment level. The focus was on CES series as an input to the gross domestic product estimates. GAO issued a report titled “Gross Domestic Product: No evidence of manipulation in first quarter 1991 estimates” dismissing the charges.

1993: CES undertook an extensive Response Analysis Survey (RAS) of CES and QCEW microdata reporting via payroll processing firms, payroll software providers, and individual respondents. This survey was a follow-up from the large 1991 benchmark revision that had been traced to reporting problems by payroll processing firms. The RAS identified minor issues in reporting in both the CES and QCEW.

1994: CES began collecting sample data via electronic data interchange (EDI) for selected large firms which had large number of worksites.

1994: A special panel of the American Statistical Association, requested by BLS, issued its report titled “A research agenda to guide and improve the CES program,” with 26 comprehensive recommendations for CES and ES-202 (now known as QCEW) program improvement. The genesis of the review was an unusually large benchmark revision for 1991.  

1995: BLS announced a wide-ranging redesign of the CES program based largely on the 1994 American Statistical Association panel’s recommendations. It was conducted in three sequential phases: research, production testing, and implementation.

1995: CES began FAX sample data collection for selected reporters.

1995–97: As part of the probability sample redesign effort, BLS completed pilot tests of sampling new business births more rapidly, from first-cut UI registration files. Results indicated this was not feasible and efforts were instead focused on modeling for new business births. In addition, BLS worked with experts from outside BLS to complete a probability-based sample design and explore alternative estimators. Other outside experts worked with BLS to research improvements to solicitation and collection methods that would help raise survey response rates. Research, including several years of simulations, was conducted to assess the feasibility of concurrent seasonal adjustment. 

1996: CES introduced a special seasonal adjustment technique to control for the variation in intervals between surveys (also known as the 4- versus 5-week effect).

1996: CES introduced a special procedure to prevent fluctuation in seasonally adjusted local government noneducation series from the intermittent employment of poll workers during election years.

1996: CES began sample data collection by electronic mail and internet for selected reporters.

1997: The sample redesign research phase was completed; BLS began production test phase of the redesign. BLS took over sample solicitation from states and newly selected probability sample units were solicited by the three BLS regional collection centers. Test estimates were produced from the new sample and assessed for benchmark revision and variance properties.

1997: Research was conducted to test of the feasibility of estimating federal employment using standard benchmark and sample-based estimators rather than the method of using end-of-month counts from the Office of Personnel Management.

1997: CES-N began using a special seasonal adjustment procedure (X-12 ARIMA software was introduced) for national level construction series. This procedure allowed for improved detection of weather-related outliers and enabled CES to begin using the 4- versus 5-week effect adjustment in the construction series. 

1998: A special seasonal adjustment technique was introduced to control for the variation in the number of work days in a month, also known as 10/11 day adjustment. It was used only for selected hours and earnings series.

1998: A pilot test of collecting all employee hours and earnings was completed. Though successful, a decision was made to postpone this initiative until after the CES redesign was complete, to avoid overwhelming the program resources.

1999: Average hourly earnings series including lump sum payments for the aerospace industries were discontinued. (Employment Cost Index series were considered better escalators by BLS and data users.)

2000–03: Implementation phase of the redesign began. A new probability-based sample design and resultant estimates began publication on an SIC major division basis with the wholesale trade industry. Mining, construction, and manufacturing followed in 2001, transportation and public utilities, and finance, insurance, and real estate, and retail trade in 2002 and services in 2003. Government was not converted because of the already existing very high sample coverage.

2003: CES-N fully implemented the program redesign. Changes included implementation of a probability sample design, introduction of business birth–death modeling, conversion from an SIC to a NAICS (2002) basis, introduction of a new method for estimating federal government employment, and the introduction of concurrent seasonal adjustment. Historical time series were reconstructed based on NAICS.

2006: CES-N discontinued the women workers series from collection and publication. Over 5,000 letters of complaint from users led BLS to reinstate this series in 2007, and to shelve plans to drop production and nonsupervisory worker employment, hours, and earnings series.

2006: BLS began collecting all employee payroll and hours.

2007: CES began including tips in its payroll definition for the private service-providing industries excluding education.

2007: CES-N introduced small domain model estimates for selected national level industries with small sample sizes.

2007: Nearly all remaining state workforce agencies sample data collection was transferred to BLS.

2008: CES-N began publication of experimental all employee hours and earnings series.

2008: BLS completed an extensive response analysis survey to explore sources of reporting error in the CES and QCEW microdata and their possible contributions to benchmark error and differing seasonal patterns between the two programs. Results contributed to CES decision not to change benchmark methods or frequencies until error sources in the QCEW could be better understood.

2008: CES-N began publishing data using updated NAICS 2007 codes instead of NAICS 2002.

2011: CES-N began publication of official all employee hours and earnings.

2011: CES began updating the business birth–death model on a quarterly basis rather than the previous procedure of annual updates.

2012: CES-N converted to NAICS 2012 which resulted to minor content changes within the manufacturing and the retail trade sectors, as well as minor coding changes within the utilities and the leisure and hospitality sectors. Several industry titles and descriptions were also updated.

2014: CES changed from annual to quarterly sample rotation to improve response rates and estimates by more quickly phasing in newly solicited sample.

2015: CES-N transitioned from using X‑12‑ARIMA to X‑13ARIMA‑SEATS to produce seasonally adjusted series and forecasts of birth–death residuals.

2018: CES-N data series are published under revised NAICS 2017 codes.

2020–21: CES-N implemented temporary adjustments beginning with March 2020 estimates to better capture unprecedented employment changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. These adjustments were discontinued in October 2021.

Last Modified Date: May 04, 2022