BLS Handbook of Methods

In This Chapter

Chapter 1.
Labor Force Data Derived from the Current Population Survey

Concepts
The criteria used in classifying persons on the basis of their labor force activity and some of the major statistics obtained from the CPS are as follows:

Employed persons. All those who, during the reference week, (1) did any work at all as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in a family-operated enterprise; and (2) all those who did not work but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent due to illness, bad weather, vacation, childcare problems, labor dispute, maternity or paternity leave, or other family or personal obligations — whether or not they were paid by their employers for the time off and whether or not they were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job. Included in the total are employed citizens of foreign countries who are residing in the United States, but who are not living on the premises of an embassy. Excluded are persons whose only activity consisted of work around their own home (such as housework, painting, repairing, and so forth) or volunteer work for religious, charitable, and similar organizations.

Unemployed persons. All persons who: 1) had no employment during the reference week; 2) were available for work, except for temporary illness; and 3) had made specific efforts, such as contacting employers, to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

Duration of unemployment represents the length of time (through the current reference week) that persons classified as unemployed had been continuously looking for work. For persons on layoff, duration of unemployment represents the number of full weeks since the end of their most recent period of employment. Thus, it is a measure of an in-progress spell of joblessness, not a completed spell. Two useful measures of the duration of unemployment are the mean and the median. Mean duration is the arithmetic average computed from single weeks of unemployment. Median duration is the midpoint of a distribution of weeks of unemployment.

The reasons for unemployment are divided into four major groups: (1) Job losers, defined as (a) persons on temporary layoff, who have been given a date to return to work or who expect to return within 6 months (persons on layoff need not be looking for work to be classified as unemployed); (b) permanent job losers, whose employment ended involuntarily and who began looking for work; and (c) persons who completed a temporary job, and who began looking for work after the job ended; (2) Job leavers, defined as persons who quit or otherwise terminated their employment voluntarily and immediately began looking for work; (3) Reentrants, defined as persons who previously worked but were out of the labor force prior to beginning their job search; and (4) New entrants, defined as persons who never had worked but were searching for work.

Civilian labor force. This is the total of all civilians classified as employed and unemployed.

Unemployment rate. This represents the proportion of the civilian labor force that is unemployed.

Participation rate. This represents the proportion of the population that is in the labor force.

Employment-population ratio. This represents the proportion of the population that is employed.

Not in the labor force. Included in this group are all persons in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed. Information is collected on their desire for and availability to take a job at the time of the CPS interview, jobsearch activity in the prior year, and reason for not looking for work in the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not currently looking, are designated as "marginally attached to the labor force." The marginally attached are divided into those not currently looking because they believe their search would be futile — so-called discouraged workers — and those not currently looking for other reasons such as family responsibilities, ill health, or lack of transportation. For discouraged workers, the reasons for not currently looking for work are that the individual believes that: No work is available in his or her line of work or area; he or she could not find any work; he or she lacks necessary schooling, training, skills, or experience; employers would think he or she is too young or too old; or he or she would encounter hiring discrimination.

Multiple jobholders. These are employed persons who, during the reference week, had two or more jobs as a wage and salary worker, were self-employed and also held a wage and salary job, or worked as an unpaid family worker and also held a wage and salary job.

At work part time for economic reasons. Sometimes referred to as involuntary part time, this category refers to individuals who gave an economic reason for working 1 to 34 hours during the reference week. Economic reasons include: Slack work or unfavorable business conditions, inability to find full-time work, and seasonal declines in demand. Those who usually work part time must also indicate that they want and are available to work full time to be classified as part time for economic reasons.

At work part time for noneconomic reasons. This group includes those persons who usually work part time and were at work 1 to 34 hours during the reference week for a noneconomic reason. Noneconomic reasons include: Illness or other medical limitations, childcare problems or other family or personal obligations, school or training, retirement or Social Security limits on earnings, and being in a job in which full-time work is less than 35 hours. This group also includes those who gave an economic reason for usually working 1 to 34 hours but said they do not want to work full time or were unavailable for such work.

Usual full- or part-time status. Full-time workers are those who usually worked 35 hours or more (at all jobs combined). This group includes some individuals who worked less than 35 hours in the reference week for either economic or noneconomic reasons and those temporarily absent from work 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), regardless of the number of hours worked in the reference week. This may include some individuals who actually worked more than 34 hours in the reference week, as well as those temporarily absent from work who usually work less than 35 hours.

Usual weekly earnings for wage and salary workers. Data are collected on 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 as perceived by the respondent. 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.

Next: Recent Changes to the Survey

Last Modified Date: April 17, 2003

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