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FAQ


LABOR FORCE AND UNEMPLOYMENT STATISTICS


Frequently-used acronyms:

BLS [U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]
CES [Current Employment Statistics]
CPS [Current Population Survey]
LAUS [Local Area Unemployment Statistics]
NAICS [North American Industry Classification System]
OEWS [Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics]
QCEW [Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages]
SOC [Standard Occupational Classification]
UI [Unemployment Insurance]

What are the LAUS data used for?
The LAUS program is the only comprehensive source of regularly produced labor force and unemployment statistics for states and substate areas. The LAUS estimates are key indicators of local economic conditions. A wide variety of customers use these estimates. Federal programs use the data for allocations to states and areas, as well as eligibility determinations for assistance. State and local governments use the estimates for planning and budgetary purposes and to determine the need for local employment and training services. Private industry, researchers, the media, and other individuals use the data to assess localized labor market developments and make comparisons across areas.

What time periods are available for LAUS data?
LAUS data are available on a monthly and annual basis. The LAUS monthly series start in January 1976 for all states. Series for most substate areas begin in January 1990. The most notable exceptions are cities that have crossed the 25,000-population threshold for inclusion in the LAUS program. Data for cities are generally carried back to their most recent decennial base year (e.g. 2000 or 2010) at the time that they were added.

Why aren't data for all areas (the nation, states, and substate areas) published at the same time?
Data availability is controlled by the length of time required to produce and validate estimates. Data for the nation, which come directly from the CPS, are available earliest; data for states are available next, generally about two weeks later; data for metropolitan areas, micropolitan areas, combined areas, counties, and cities are available about one after the release of state estimates.

Why are some data available at the national level but not at the state or substate levels?
National data come from the CPS, a sample survey of 60,000 households, which provides a wealth of demographic and economic characteristic detail for the U.S. as a whole. The CPS sample is too small to support reliable estimation of even total employed and unemployed for subnational areas on a monthly basis. (For example, not all counties are covered in the CPS sample.) The LAUS program uses non-survey methodologies to estimate total employed and unemployed for subnational areas on a monthly basis, using the national not-seasonally-adjusted estimates from the CPS as controls. No detailed demographic or economic characteristic data are available through these non-survey methodologies. However, on an annual basis, limited demographic and economic characteristic detail tabulated directly from the CPS for the 50 states are available.

What is seasonal adjustment?
Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, the opening and closing of schools, and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series. This permits easier observation and analysis of cyclical, trend, and other non-seasonal movements in the data. By eliminating seasonal fluctuations, the series becomes smoother, and it is easier to compare data from month to month. It is important to note that seasonal adjustment is merely an approximation and seasonally adjusted estimates have a broader margin of possible error than the original data on which they are based.

Is the unemployed labor force number only made up of individuals receiving unemployment compensation?
No. The unemployed labor force number includes all persons who did not have a job during the reference week, were currently available for a job, and were looking for work or were waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been laid off, whether or not they were eligible for unemployment insurance. Figures on unemployment insurance claims exclude, in addition to otherwise eligible persons who do not file claims for benefits, persons who have exhausted their benefit rights, persons who have been disqualified from receiving benefits, new workers who have not earned rights to unemployment insurance, and persons losing jobs not covered by unemployment insurance systems (some workers in agriculture, domestic services, religious organizations, and self-employed and unpaid family workers).

In addition, the qualifications for receiving unemployment compensation differ from the definition of unemployment used in the household survey. For example, persons with a job but not at work and persons working only a few hours during the week are sometimes eligible for unemployment compensation, but are classified as employed rather than unemployed in the household survey.

What are the differences between household survey data (LAUS) and payroll survey data (CES)?
Household data, from LAUS and the CPS, pertain to individuals and relate to where they reside. Payroll data, such as those from the CES survey, pertain to jobs (persons on payrolls) by where those jobs are located. Data from these two sources differ from each other because of variations in definitions and coverage, source of information, methods of collection, and estimating procedures. Sampling variability and response errors are additional reasons for discrepancies. The data developed through the LAUS program are based on the household concept of the CPS.

Household data counts persons based on their activity or employment status reported for the calendar week including the 12th of the month, whereas the payroll data counts workers who earned wages during the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. Consequently, household data includes persons 'with a job but not at work' who earn no wages, for example, workers on extended unpaid leaves of absence. Payroll data, by contrast, exclude unpaid workers. Payroll data count separately each job held by multiple jobholders while household data counts such workers once in the job at which they worked the most hours. Household data counts employed persons at their place of residence; the payroll data counts jobs at the place of work. For instance, if an employed worker lives in a neighboring county in Minnesota but commutes to work in North Dakota, the household data counts that person as employed in Minnesota but the payroll data counts that person as employed in North Dakota. Household data also differs from the payroll data, in that it includes self-employed persons; unpaid family workers employed 15 or more hours during the survey period; and a greater proportion of agricultural and domestic workers. Household data exclude persons under age 16, while the payroll data counts all payroll workers, regardless of age.

What does the term "benchmark" mean?
A benchmark is a standard or point of reference in measuring or judging the quality of estimates. Benchmarking is a continuous process of establishing a new set of data through input updates thereby leading to series revisions. At the beginning of each calendar year, the LAUS program revises up to five years of previous data to incorporate new inputs and population data. At the state level, LAUS receives new population controls from the Census Bureau, as well as updated CES and UI claims inputs. State models then are re-estimated to incorporate these changes, using all data in the series. Revised statewide estimates are controlled to updated census division and national totals reflecting the new population controls.

Substate estimates subsequently are revised to incorporate any changes in the inputs, such as revisions in the place-of-work-based employment estimates, revisions to UI claims data, and updated historical relationships. Local area Handbook estimates then are revised and re-adjusted to sum to the revised state estimates of employment and unemployment. Estimates for disaggregated cities are revised using updated population and UI claims data.

What are population controls?
The term "population controls" refers to population data developed from various independent sources, such as vital statistics on births, deaths, migration, school enrollment, persons living in group quarters, inmates in institutions, etc., which are used in CPS estimation procedures to independently adjust sample-based labor force levels. These are updated annually by the Census Bureau and provided to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The impact on LAUS estimates of new population controls is to proportionately raise or lower the estimates of labor force levels (with unemployment rates, labor force participation rates, and employment-population ratios being unaffected) for states and their respective balance-of-state areas. New population controls typically are implemented for the five most recent years of data at the beginning of each year.

What is the difference between job losers and the unemployed?
People who have involuntarily lost a job, or job losers, are a large subset of the unemployed each month. But there are also persons considered unemployed who are not job losers such as those that have voluntarily left a job, have newly entered or re-entered the labor force but not yet found a job, or have recently completed a temporary job and are seeking new employment.

What is the difference between LAUS labor force estimates and ACS labor force estimates?
The American Community Survey (ACS) produces information on social, housing, and economic characteristics—including labor force status—for demographic groups in local areas. One-year estimates for local areas with populations of 65,000 or more are published about nine months following the reference year.

The LAUS program produces the official monthly estimates of labor force and unemployment for subnational areas. LAUS estimates are consistent with and controlled to the official labor force and unemployment measures for the U.S. from the CPS. LAUS data are timelier than ACS data and released 3-4 weeks following the reference period.