Current Population Survey

From Academic Kids

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a statistical survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS uses the data to provide direct monthly estimates of the number of unemployed people in the United States and to provide annual-average estimates of employment and unemployment in large metropolitan areas.

The CPS began in 1940, and responsibility for conducting the CPS was given to the Census Bureau in 1947. In 1994 the CPS was redesigned to obtain better survey data.

CPS is a survey that is:

  • Employment-focused
  • Enumerator-conducted
  • Continuous
  • Cross-sectional

CPS is a monthly survey of about 50,000 households. The sample represents the civilian noninstitutional population. The survey asks about the employment status of each member of the household 15 years of age or older in the calendar week containing 12th day of the month. Based on responses to a series of questions on work and job search activities, each person 16 years and over in a sample household is classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.


Survey Methodology

Approximately 50,000 households are eligible for the CPS. Sample households are selected by a multistage stratified statistical sampling scheme. A household is interviewed for 4 successive months, then not interviewed for 8 months, then returned to the sample for 4 months after than. An adult member of each household provides information for all members of the household.

Employment Classification

People are classified as employed if they did any work at all as paid employees during the reference week; worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm; or worked without pay at least 15 hours in a family business or farm. People are also counted as employed if they were temporarily absent from their jobs because of illness, bad weather, vacation, labor-management disputes, or personal reasons.

People are classified as unemployed if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • They were not employed during the reference week
  • They were available for work at that time
  • They made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. (The exception to this category covers persons laid off from a job and expecting recall)

The unemployment data derived from the household survey in no way depend upon the eligibility for or receipt of unemployment insurance benefits.

Those who are not classified as employed or unemployed are not counted as part of the labor force. They are tracked as “discouraged workers.”

Data available

The CPS reports:

  • Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and over by age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, marital status, family relationship, and Vietnam-era veteran status.
  • Employed persons by occupation, industry, and class of worker, hours of work, full- or part-time status, and reasons for working part time.
  • Employed multiple jobholders by occupation, industry, numbers of jobs held, and full- or part-time status of multiple jobs.
  • Unemployed persons by occupation, industry, class of worker of last job, duration of unemployment, reason for unemployment, and methods used to find employment.
  • Discouraged workers and other persons not in the labor force.
  • Special topics such as the labor force status of particular subgroups of the population (e g., women maintaining families, working women with children, displaced workers, and disabled veterans).
  • Work experience, occupational mobility, job tenure, educational attainment, and school enrollment of workers.
  • Information on weekly and hourly earnings by detailed demographic group, occupation, education, union affiliation, and full- and part-time employment status.

The survey also reports the labor force participation rate, which is the labor force as a percentage of the population, and the ratio of the employed to the total population of the United States.

Although the primary purpose of the CPS is to record employment information, the survey fulfills a secondary role in providing demographic information about the United States population.

CPS March Supplement

Since 1948, the CPS has included supplemental questions (at first, in April; later, in March) on income received in the previous calendar year, which are used to estimate the data on income and work experience.

Supplement topics include after-tax money income, benefits that are not cash, displaced workers, job tenure, occupational mobility, temporary work, adult education, and other related topics.


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