History of the Current Population Survey

Before the 1930s, there was not a monthly survey to count unemployed persons. Mass unemployment in the early 1930s increased the need for such statistics, and widely conflicting estimates based on a variety of techniques began to appear. Dissatisfied with these methods, many research groups, as well as state and municipal governments, began experimenting with direct surveys or samples of the population. In these surveys, an attempt was made to classify the population as employed, unemployed, or out of the labor force with a series of questions about each individual.

A set of precise labor force concepts was developed in the late 1930s to classify people as working, looking for work, or not in the labor force. These concepts were adopted for a national survey of households, called the Monthly Report of Unemployment, which was initiated in 1940 by the Work Projects Administration. This survey was transferred to the Census Bureau in 1942 and later renamed the Current Population Survey.

Over the years there have been continuous improvements to the survey. Today, the CPS provides detailed economic and demographic data representing everyone age 15 and over in the U.S. who is employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.


Last Modified Date: September 23, 2011