Why This Counts: Celebrating 100 years of Current Employment Statistics

You’re only as old as you feel, or so the saying goes. Here at BLS, we agree that age is only a state of mind. I’m proud to say the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey—which some call the “payroll survey” or the “establishment survey”—is still going strong as it turns 100 years old this month. To celebrate, BLS is hosting a free public event with exciting guest speakers and topical booths staffed with economists ready to answer your questions. We will hold the 100 Years of CES Symposium on October 19, 2015, in Washington, DC. You need to register to attend. We hope to see you there.

Throughout its 100 years, many things about the CES have remained the same, while others bear no likeness to the survey’s origins. Instead of the monthly news releases and web updates we post rapidly today, the start of the modern CES program was one table called the “Number of employees and amount of earnings in identical establishments in certain industries during one week of October and November, 1915,” published in the January 1916 Monthly Labor Review. Interestingly enough, when the survey began, many analysts viewed the amount of earnings as more useful than a count of employees because they believed earnings were more closely tied to changes in production. Employers were more likely to reduce hours worked and therefore pay than lay people off. Today, the headline number on the monthly jobs report is the number of jobs added or lost each month.

One crucial feature that remains unchanged is the survey’s reliance on voluntary reports from US employers. So, I thank CES survey respondents for your cooperation then and now, because the survey could not succeed without you. The U.S. labor market is fueled by business of all sizes and industries. The experience of each employer tells an important story, so I encourage you to say “yes” when we call to ask for your participation.

The states have always played an especially important role in making, publishing, and explaining CES estimates. I thank our state partners for their continued support of the CES program.

I encourage all our readers to check the Monthly Labor Review regularly in the coming months because we will publish several articles that highlight the survey throughout the decades. As always, your source of the most up-to-date information about national and state and metro area employment, hours, and earnings estimates is www.bls.gov.

Have a question about the survey? Staff economists are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern time. For questions about national estimates, call (202) 691-6555 or send us an email. State and metro area economists are available at (202) 691-6559, and you also can email them.