July 14, 2024 

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AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR: Started as a collection of craft unions in 1886, this is now one half of the umbrella organization for labor unions in the United States (the AFL part of AFL-CIO). As a collection of craft unions, the AFL primarily represented skilled workers in particular occupations. However, it also contained unions representing unskilled industrial workers, which led to a rift among AFL members in 1938 and spawned the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). This rift was closed in 1955, when both joined together to form the AFL-CIO, which is the primary advocate for workers and labor unions in the United States.

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A monthly survey of 60,000 occupied households undertaken by the Bureau of the Census which is then used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to estimate the employment, unemployment, and labor force status of the entire population. The Current Population Survey (CPS) contains an extensive series of questions designed to identify the wide range of ways a person can be categorized as employed, unemployed, in the labor force, or not in the labor force. The CPS is THE source of data used to calculate the nation's official unemployment rate, as well as other employment measures, such as the employment rate and labor force participation rate.
Earlier manifestations of the Current Population Survey (CPS) were initiated during the Great Depression of the 1930s to provide a reasonable measure of the unemployment situation in the United States. Throughout much of that depressionary decade, most folks KNEW that unemployment was a big problem, but no one had reliable information to determine the full extent of the problem.

The first official version of a household survey to determine employment status was the Monthly Report of Unemployment started by the Works Progress Administration in 1940. The Bureau of the Census took charge of this survey in 1942 and called it the Monthly Report on the Labor Force. In 1948, the name was changed to Current Population Survey. While the Bureau of the Census continues to conduct the survey each month, in 1959 the responsibility for calculating and reporting the labor force and unemployment data was taken over by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A Bit About the Households

The 60,000 households included in the survey represent an average of 1 in every 1,600 total households in the nation. The lucky households are randomly selected to reflect the urban-rural and industrial-farming composition of each of the 50 states (and the District of Columbia). As such, the CPS provides a relatively accurate statistical estimate of employment, unemployment, labor force status, and unemployment rate for each of the 50 states (and the District of Columbia).

Given that households generally have more than one resident, the 60,000 households included in the CPS actually generates information on almost 100,000 individuals 16 years of age or older each month. Individuals under 16 years of age are excluded from the survey due to child labor laws, mandatory school attendance, and social customs that frown on working children.

Once a household is selected for the survey, occupants are interviewed for 4 consecutive months, then not interviewed for 8 months, then interviewed again for 4 months before they are finally left alone to pursue a quiet life of spiritual and intellectual fulfillment free of Census Bureau inquiries. Using this procedure, one-fourth of the households included in the survey are replaced each month with a fresh group of faces. The Census Bureau implements the survey in this manner to: (a) maintain a degree of continuity from month to month, while at the same time, (b) not placing an excessive burden on a given household. In fact, only about 4 percent of the households included in this voluntary survey refuse to cooperate during any given month.

And A Bit About the Survey

The survey is conducted each month by a staff of 1,500 trained and experienced interviewers who work for the Bureau of the Census. During the calender week (Sunday through Saturday) of each month that contains the 19th day (termed the "survey week") this group of interviewers venture forth into the streets of America to extract employment information from 60,000 selected households. The specific employment information extracted from respondents pertains to the previous week (what is termed the "reference week"). This reference week is always the calender week (Sunday through Saturday) that contains the 12th day of the month.

This survey procedure is carefully devised to ensure reliability and to maintain consistency of the data collected.

  • First, a week is used as the reference period (rather than a month or a day) because it is long enough to compensate for holidays and erratic, random, one-time aberrations, but short enough to give current employment status. It is also an easily defined time period.

  • Second, the survey week immediately follows the reference week to ensure that respondents have an accurate recollection of their employment status. Should too much time pass between the survey week and the reference week, respondents might understandably forget what they did.

  • Third, the reference week always includes the 12th day of the month to maintain consistency, to provide equal reporting periods, and to avoid monthly aberrations. Using different reference weeks each month--first week of one month, last week of the next month, then the second week of the third month--would, at the very least, provide an inconsistent reporting period. If, for example, should some employers make regular monthly employment decisions (that is, hiring new workers on the 15th of the month), then inconsistent reference weeks would measure these workers in some months but not in others.
The respondents interviewed are never directly asked if they were "employed," "unemployed," "in the labor force," or "not in the labor force" during the reference week. Rather, the respondents are asked specific questions that are then used by the chief number crunchers at the BLS to determine employment status. For example, a respondent who has been temporarily laid off from a job, subject to recall in a few weeks, might consider themselves "employed," even though they would be officially included in the "unemployed" category. Another respondent might consider themselves "unemployed" and "in the labor force," even though they had not been actively seeking employment, which would place them in the "not in labor force" category.


Recommended Citation:

CURRENT POPULATION SURVEY, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2024. [Accessed: July 14, 2024].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | unemployment rate | Bureau of Labor Statistics | labor force | civilian labor force | unemployment rate, measurement problems | alternative unemployment rates | employment rate | employment-population ratio | labor force participation rate | employed persons | unemployed persons | not in the labor force | reference week, Current Population Survey | survey week, Current Population Survey |

Or For A Little Background...

     | unemployment | macroeconomic problems | macroeconomic goals | factors of production | full employment | business cycles | contraction | expansion | recession | circular flow |

And For Further Study...

     | unemployment sources | natural unemployment | unemployment problems | unemployment reasons | unemployment, production possibilities | full employment, production possibilities | macroeconomic sectors | Bureau of Labor Statistics | gross domestic product | macroeconomic markets | resource markets | inflation | stabilization policies | government functions | underground economy | business cycle indicators | inflation |

Related Websites (Will Open in New Window)...

     | Current Population Survey Home Page | Bureau of Labor Statistics | Bureau of the Census |

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