Current Population Survey: Concepts
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of U.S. households that is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The CPS is the source of the national unemployment rate, along with a wide range of information about employment, unemployment, and people not in the labor force.
Following are definitions of the key labor force concepts used in the CPS:
Civilian noninstitutional population. All people residing in the 50 states and the District of Columbia who are not confined to institutions such as nursing homes and prisons, and who are not on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. Included are citizens of foreign countries who reside in the United States but do not live on the premises of an embassy. The civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and older is the base population group used for CPS statistics.
Civilian labor force, or labor force. All people ages 16 and older who are classified as either employed or unemployed, as defined below.
Labor force participation rate. The labor force (employed and unemployed people) as a percentage of the population. The labor force participation rate is calculated as (labor force ÷ civilian noninstitutional population) × 100.
Employed people. All those who, during the survey reference week (generally, the week that includes the 12th day of the month), met any of the following criteria:
- did any work at all as paid employees (a minimum of 1 hour)
- worked in their own business or profession, or on their own farm
- worked 15 or more hours as unpaid workers in a family member’s business
- were temporarily absent from their jobs or businesses because of illness, vacation, bad weather, a labor dispute, or another reason (whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs)
Note that each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job. Excluded are people whose only activity consisted of work around their own home (such as housework, painting, repairing, and so forth) or volunteer activities for religious, charitable, or other organizations.
Employment–population ratio. The employed as a percentage of the population. The employment–population ratio is calculated as (employed ÷ civilian noninstitutional population) × 100.
Unemployed people. All people who meet all of the following criteria:
- were not employed during the survey reference week
- were available for work (except for temporary illness)
- had made a specific, active effort to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the survey reference week
There is one exception to the active job search requirement: People waiting to be recalled to work while temporarily laid off do not need to look for a job in order to be classified as unemployed.
People waiting to start a new job must have actively looked for a job within the last 4 weeks in order to be classified as unemployed. Otherwise, they are classified as not in the labor force.
Active job search methods are defined as those which have the potential to result in a job offer without any further action on the part of the jobseeker. Examples of active job search methods are as follows:
- contacting an employer directly about a job
- having a job interview
- submitting a resume or application to an employer or to a job website
- using a public or private employment agency or university employment center
- contacting friends or relatives, or seeking assistance through social networks
- checking union or professional registers
- placing or answering a job advertisement
- some other active method
Methods that do not constitute active job search include simply looking at job postings without taking further action, and taking a training course.
Unemployment rate. The number of unemployed people as a percentage of the labor force. (The labor force is the sum of the employed and the unemployed.) The unemployment rate is calculated as (unemployed ÷ labor force) × 100.
Not in the labor force. People ages 16 and older in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed.
Information is collected on their desire for work and availability to take a job at the time of the CPS interview, their job search activity in the previous year, and their reason for not looking for work in the 4-week period ending with the survey reference week.
On the basis of this information, a subgroup known as those marginally attached to the labor force is identified. The marginally attached are people who want and are available for a job, and who have looked for work sometime in the previous 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the previous 12 months). They are not counted as unemployed because they had not actively searched for work in the previous 4 weeks.
The marginally attached are further divided into two subgroups:
- Discouraged workers. The discouraged are not currently looking for work for reasons such as the following:
- They believe that there are no jobs available to them, or none for which they would qualify.
- They could not find work in the past.
- They lack the schooling or training needed for the jobs that are available.
- They believe that employers think that they are too young or too old, or they believe that they are subject to other types of discrimination.
Their specific responses may vary somewhat, but the reasons they give all indicate discouragement about their job prospects.
- Other people marginally attached to the labor force. This group includes all marginally attached people who are not classified as discouraged. They are people who want a job but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks for reasons such as family responsibilities, unavailability of childcare, transportation problems, or illness.
Usual full- or part-time status. People are classified as full- or part-time workers according to the number of hours they usually work per week.
- Full-time workers are those who usually work 35 or more hours per week (at all jobs combined), regardless of their actual hours at work during the survey reference week. Thus, this group includes some individuals who, for various reasons, may have worked less than 35 hours in the reference week. It also includes people who were temporarily absent from work but who usually work at least 35 hours per week.
- Part-time workers are those who usually work less than 35 hours per week (at all jobs combined), regardless of their actual hours at work during the survey reference week. This group, therefore, includes some individuals who actually worked 35 hours or more during the reference week, as well as some who were temporarily absent from work but who usually work less than 35 hours.
Hours at work. The measure that reflects a person’s actual hours at work during the survey reference week. For example, people who usually work 40 hours a week, but were off 8 hours on Columbus Day, would be reported as being at work 32 hours, even if they were paid for the holiday.
Data on hours worked pertain only to people who were at work for at least 1 hour during the survey reference week and exclude people who were not at work for the entire week. For people working in more than one job, the published figures relate to the number of hours worked in all jobs during the reference week.
At work part time for economic or noneconomic reasons. These measures pertain to people who were at work for 1 to 34 hours during the survey reference week and exclude people who were not at work during the reference week.
- At work part time for economic reasons. People who are at work part time for economic reasons, also referred to as involuntary part-time workers, are those who gave an economic reason for working 1 to 34 hours during the survey reference week. They also must indicate that they want, and are available, to work full time in order to be classified into this category.
Economic reasons for working part time include the following:
- slack work or unfavorable business conditions
- inability to find full-time work
- seasonal declines in demand
- At work part time for noneconomic reasons. This category of workers includes people who usually work part time and who gave a noneconomic reason for working 1 to 34 hours during the survey reference week. The group also includes a small number of people with an economic reason for working 1 to 34 hours but who were unavailable to work full time.
Noneconomic reasons for working part time are as follows:
- illness or other medical limitations
- childcare problems or other family or personal obligations
- school or training
- retirement or Social Security limits on earnings
- being in a job in which full-time work is less than 35 hours
- other reasons
Reasons for unemployment. Unemployed people (that is, people who are actively seeking and are available for work) are categorized by general reason for unemployment, based on their status at the time they began to look for work. There are four major categories:
- Job losers consist of
- people on temporary layoff who have been given a date to return to work or who expect to return within 6 months (people on temporary layoff need not be looking for work in order to be classified as unemployed)
- permanent job losers (those whose employment ended involuntarily)
- people who completed a temporary job
- Job leavers are people who quit or otherwise voluntarily terminated their employment
- Reentrants are people who previously worked but who were not in the labor force prior to beginning their most recent job search
- New entrants are people who had never previously worked
Duration of unemployment. The length of time (up to and including the survey reference week) that people classified as unemployed had been continuously looking for work. For people on layoff, the duration of unemployment is the number of full weeks they have been on layoff.
- Mean duration of unemployment is the arithmetic average of the duration of unemployment, computed from the number of single weeks of unemployment.
- Median duration of unemployment is the midpoint of a distribution of the number of weeks of unemployment, where half of the unemployed workers had been looking for work longer than the median number of weeks and half had been looking for fewer weeks than the median.
The unemployment duration measures reflect still-in-progress spells of joblessness, not completed spells. The Current Population Survey does not ask how long it took someone to find a job, and the duration measures do not provide that information.
Occupation. The type of job or work that a person does, such as carpenter, software developer, or cashier. The CPS uses the Census Occupational Classification system, which is derived from the Standard Occupational Classification system (SOC).
For the employed, the occupation is based on the job they held in the survey reference week. People with two or more jobs are classified as being in the job at which they worked the greatest number of hours. The unemployed are classified according to their last job.
Industry. This concept reflects the business activity of a person’s employer or company (manufacturing, retail store, hospital), regardless of the type of work that person does (his or her occupation). An industry includes people with different occupations who work for the same type of business.
For the employed, the industry is based on the job the worker held in the survey reference week. People with two or more jobs are classified as being in the job at which they worked the greatest number of hours. The unemployed are classified according to their last job.
Class of worker. A term used to describe general categories of employment arrangements. Workers are categorized into one of the following groups:
- Wage and salary workers are those who receive wages, salaries, commissions, tips, or payment in kind from a private-sector employer or from a local, state, or federal government agency or entity.
- Self-employed people are those who work for profit or fees in their own business, profession, trade, or farm. Typically, the term self-employed refers to the unincorporated self-employed. Self-employed people whose businesses are incorporated generally are included among wage and salary workers because, technically, they are paid employees of their corporation.
- Unpaid family workers are people working without pay for 15 or more hours a week on a farm or in a business operated by a family member with whom they reside.
For the employed, the class of worker to which they belong is based on the job they held in the survey reference week. People with two or more jobs are classified into the job at which they worked the greatest number of hours. The unemployed are classified according to their last job.
Multiple jobholders. Employed people who had two or more jobs during the survey reference week.
To be classified as a multiple jobholder, the individual must have been a wage and salary worker (defined above) in at least one of the jobs he or she held. Self-employed people with multiple unincorporated businesses and people with multiple jobs as unpaid family workers are not classified as multiple jobholders.
A person employed only in private households (such as a cleaner, gardener, or babysitter) who worked for two or more employers during the survey reference week is not counted as a multiple jobholder.
Usual weekly earnings for wage and salary workers. The usual weekly earnings data from the CPS represent earnings before taxes and other deductions, and include any overtime pay, commissions, or tips usually received (at the main job in the case of multiple jobholders).
Earnings reported on a basis other than weekly (such as annual, monthly, or hourly) are converted to weekly. The term usual is determined by each respondent’s own understanding of it. If the respondent asks for a definition of “usual,” interviewers are instructed to define the term as more than half the weeks worked during the past 4 or 5 months.
CPS earnings data reflect the sole or primary job of wage and salary workers, and exclude all self-employed people, whether or not their businesses are incorporated. Earnings data are collected about employed people only. The survey does not ask how much unemployed people earned on their last job.
Median usual weekly earnings. The median earnings level is the midpoint in a given earnings distribution, with half of workers having earnings above the median and the other half having earnings below the median. Published estimates of medians are calculated by linear interpolation of the $50 centered interval within which each median falls.
Last Modified Date: April 10, 2018