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Handbook of Methods Current Population Survey Data Sources

Current Population Survey: Data Sources

Approximately 60,000 scientifically selected households make up the Current Population Survey (CPS) sample. Each month, U.S. Census Bureau interviewers attempt to contact a responsible person in each of these eligible households to complete a CPS interview. The Census Bureau will contact each household for 8 monthly interviews over a 16-month period. (See Rotation of Sample in the Design section).

The first time a household is surveyed, the interviewer prepares a roster of the resident household members that includes some of their personal characteristics, such as date of birth, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, and veteran status.

For each household in the survey, there is a designated “householder”: the person, or one of the people, who rents or owns the residence. The designation “householder” is used in the roster to identify each household member’s relationship to the householder: spouse, child, domestic partner, etc. The roster is checked for accuracy and brought up to date at each subsequent interview to take account of new or departed household residents, changes in marital status, and similar items.

Personal visits are typically required the first month the household is in the sample, and they are preferred in the fifth month. In other months, interviews generally are conducted by telephone. Households without a telephone and those which specifically request a personal visit usually receive in-person interviews each month. About 10 percent of eligible households are interviewed via computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) from telephone centers located in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Tucson, Arizona. Field representatives interview the remaining households (approximately 68 percent of households in any given month) by telephone.

At each monthly interview, a series of standard questions on work and job search activities during the reference week is asked about each household member 15 years of age or older. The reference week is generally the week that includes the 12th of the month, and Census Bureau interviewers usually begin collecting data during the week that includes the 19th of the month.

On the basis of responses to these questions, the sample population is classified into 1 of 3 groups: the employed, the unemployed, and those not in the labor force. After the basic labor force questions are asked, most monthly interviews include an additional set of questions on supplemental topics, such as school enrollment, income and health insurance, and characteristics of military veterans.

At the end of each day’s interviewing, the field representative transmits the collected data to the Census Bureau’s central computer outside Washington, DC. Once files are transmitted to the main computer, they are deleted from the interviewers’ laptops.

Because of the crucial role interviewers have in the CPS, a great amount of time and effort is spent maintaining the quality of their work. Interviewers are given intensive training, including classroom lectures, discussion, practice, observation, home-study materials, and on-the-job training. Interviewers receive self-study training each month, as well as periodic refresher training sessions. They also are periodically accompanied by a supervisor during a full day of interviewing to determine how well they carry out their assignments.

A selected number of households are reinterviewed each month to detect and deter falsification by interviewers. These reinterviews are conducted by a dedicated staff operating independently of the CPS management structure.

Last Modified Date: April 10, 2018