Topic Archives: Survey Respondents

Did You Know Official Unemployment Estimates Are NOT from Unemployment Insurance Counts?

Editor’s Note: On October 23, 2019, we discovered some errors in the news release we published September 25 on which this blog is based. The news release was reissued with corrected data on November 7, 2019. This blog reflects the corrected data.

As BLS Commissioner, I am keenly aware of how much interest there is in our unemployment figures. It has often seemed to me that people don’t understand how we measure unemployment. I sometimes hear things like, “I’m not getting unemployment insurance benefits, so the BLS unemployment numbers don’t include me.”

I’d like to set the record straight. The unemployment estimates we release each month are completely independent of the unemployment insurance program. We do not use counts of people applying for or receiving benefits to determine the national unemployment rate. In fact, we don’t even ask about unemployment insurance benefits in the monthly survey.

How then do we measure unemployment? Our estimates are based on a nationwide, monthly household survey, known as the Current Population Survey, in which we ask people about their labor market activity in a particular week of the month.

We count people as unemployed if they:

  • Were not employed
  • Could have taken a job if one had been offered
  • Had made at least one specific, active effort to find employment in the last 4 weeks OR were on temporary layoff

The definition of unemployment includes people even if they:

  • Are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits
  • Have exhausted their benefits
  • Did not apply for benefits

To help us learn more about people who do and do not apply for benefits, the Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office sponsored a special supplement or addition to the Current Population Survey in May and September 2018.

From this survey, we learned that 74 percent of unemployed people who worked in the previous 12 months had not applied for unemployment insurance benefits since their last job. Of the unemployed who did not apply, 3 out of 5 did not apply because they didn’t believe they were eligible to receive benefits. Specifically, they believed they were not eligible because their work was not covered by unemployment insurance, they quit their job, they were terminated for misconduct, they had insufficient past work, or they had previously exhausted their benefits.

Percent distribution of unemployed people who did not apply for unemployment insurance benefits  by the main reason for not applying, 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Looking further into the characteristics of the 26 percent of people who had applied for benefits, people who were last employed in management, professional, and related jobs were most likely to apply. Those in service jobs were least likely to apply.

Percent of unemployed people who applied for unemployment insurance benefits, by occupation of last job, 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

In 2018, two-thirds of unemployed people who had applied for unemployment insurance benefits since their last job received benefits. The percentage of applicants who had received benefits ranged from 54 percent for those who last worked in production, transportation, and material moving occupations to 71 percent for those in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations.

Want to learn more about this topic? We have more data on unemployment insurance benefit applicants, nonapplicants, and recipients on our website.

Percent distribution of unemployed people who did not apply for unemployment insurance benefits by the main reason for not applying, 2018
ReasonPercent of unemployed who had worked in the previous 12 months

Eligibility issues

59.1%

Other reasons for not applying for benefits

24.8

Attitude about or barrier to applying for benefits

11.5

Reason not provided

4.6
Percent of unemployed people who applied for unemployment insurance benefits, by occupation of last job, 2018
Occupation of last jobPercent who applied for benefits

Management, professional, and related

37.6%

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance

29.6

Sales and office

24.6

Production, transportation, and material moving

22.9

Service

15.2

Why This Counts: Measuring Occupational Requirements

You probably know that BLS publishes data and analysis about employment, unemployment, job openings, earnings, productivity, occupational safety and health, and more. But did you know we also publish information about how often workers have to lift objects; the maximum weight they lift or carry; whether they work in extreme heat or cold; and how much training and experience they need for a job? We call these characteristics “occupational requirements.”

What are occupational requirements?

The Occupational Requirements Survey provides information about the requirements of jobs:

  • Physical demands of work, such as keyboarding, reaching overhead, lifting or carrying
  • Environmental conditions, such as extreme heat, exposure to outdoors, proximity to moving parts
  • Education, training, and experience requirements, such as prior work experience, on-the-job training, and license requirements
  • Cognitive and mental requirements, such as interaction with other people, independence of work, and the amount of review

How did BLS get into doing this survey?

This survey is one of our newest statistical programs; we first published data on December 1, 2016.

The Social Security Administration asked us to help them obtain accurate and current data to use in their disability programs. They are developing an Occupational Information System, which will use data from the Occupational Requirements Survey. That means the survey is crucial for Social Security to manage their disability programs fairly and efficiently.

How can I use occupational requirements information?

Users of Occupational Requirements Survey data include:

  • Researchers exploring occupational change
  • Jobseekers and students
  • Government agencies evaluating skill gaps
  • People with disabilities and their advocates

Let’s discuss a couple of examples to show you what I mean.

Educational requirements

You may want to know the minimum formal education requirements for jobs. The survey has a stat for that! In 2018, a high school diploma was required for jobs covering 40.7 percent of workers, while 17.9 percent had a bachelor’s degree requirement. The chart below shows the percent of jobs by minimum education requirement.

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We have more information on education, training, and experience. The 2018 news release showed that on-the-job training was required for about 77 percent of workers, and the average duration was 34 days.

We also have information on preparation time, which includes minimum formal education, training, and work experience a typical worker needs to perform a job. Preparation time between 4 hours and 1 month was required for 31.5 percent of workers.

Environmental Conditions

Is the noise level at your workplace closer to a library (quiet) or a rock concert (very loud)? For some jobseekers, understanding the noise level and other environmental conditions might be extremely important as they evaluate job options. The chart below provides examples of the noise intensity in different occupations.

Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Examples of work environments with different noise intensity levels include:

  • Quiet: private office, a golf course, or art museum
  • Moderate: department stores, business office, or fast food restaurant
  • Loud: manufacturing plant, atop large earth moving equipment, or jobs next to the highway
  • Very loud: rock concert venues, working with jack hammers, or rocket testing areas

How do we collect job requirement data?

To collect job requirement data, our field economists ask business owners, human resource professionals, worker safety officers, and supervisors to collect requirements of work. Field economists do not use paper or online questionnaires to collect these data; instead, they rely on a conversational interviews and descriptive documents, such as task lists, to collect information on occupational requirements.

How are we improving the survey?

Survey scope: Since it began, we have continued to refine the survey to improve its accuracy. In the third year of collection, we redefined the survey scope to focus on critical job functions—that is, the reason the job exists.

Survey content: Beginning with the current sample in collection, we added questions about cognitive and mental requirements. The Social Security Administration asked for this change so we can provide information on the requirements for workers to adapt to changes in the pace of work, solve problems, and interact with others.

Sample: The survey sample is collected over a 5-year period. That will provide the large amount of data necessary to publish information about detailed occupations. We have revised the sampling process to ensure we collect information about less common occupations.

Website: We recently improved the web layout to make it easier for users to find the data they want.

Where is more information?

We have data for occupational groups and occupations through the Occupational Profiles. All data are available through the public data tools. For concepts, methods, and history of the survey see the Handbook of Methods or visit our homepage.

Let us know if you have questions or comments about occupational requirements:

  • Email
  • Phone: (202) 691-6199

Use these gold-standard data to learn more about your job requirements or to find out about new ones. Whatever your occupational requirements question, “We have a stat for that!”

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018
Education requirement Percent
No minimum education requirement 31.5%
High school diploma 40.7
Associate’s degree 3.8
Associate’s vocational degree 2.1
Bachelor’s degree 17.9
Master’s degree 2.3
Professional degree 0.9
Doctorate degree 0.5
Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018
Occupation Quiet Moderate Loud
Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists 49.0% 51.0%
Computer programmers 60.1
Construction laborers 48.6 51.4
Electricians 49.0 51.0
Highway maintenance workers 46.2 53.8
Home health aides 54.1 45.9
Library technicians 56.0
Medical transcriptionists 68.7
Paralegals and legal assistants 66.5 33.5
Welders, cutters, and welder fitters 48.2 50.9

Tracking the Changing Nature of Work: the Process Continues

The days of working the same 9-to-5 job for 40 years are a fading memory. Work today may involve multiple part-time jobs, working from home, obtaining work through a mobile device, and changing jobs frequently. The so-called “changing nature of work” is already here, and at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we are trying to keep up with this new world.

One of our primary sources of information on Americans’ labor market activity is the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of households that provides a real-time snapshot of the share of the population who are employed and unemployed. These data are complemented by other BLS programs that focus on labor turnover, how Americans spend their time, details about local labor markets, and other topics.

But how well do these programs track nontraditional forms of employment, including short-term assignments, platform work, temporary help, and jobs so new and different we haven’t even named them yet? BLS has been working on these issues for many years. Let’s consider a few timely questions and see how BLS has responded.

Not all jobs are permanent. What do we know about jobs that are not expected to last?

Throughout its history, BLS has been exploring perceived changes in the nature of work. For example, an article in the October 1996 Monthly Labor Review described “…reports of corporate downsizing, production streamlining, and increasing use of temporary workers…” as raising questions about “…employers’ commitment to long term, stable employment relationships.” This article, and many others in the same issue, went on to introduce the first “Contingent Worker Supplement” (CWS) to the CPS. Supplements such as this are additional questions on specific topics generally asked once (as opposed to every month) of CPS households.

The CWS asks about jobs that are not expected to last, as well as alternative work arrangements, such as working as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency. While not an ongoing BLS program, we received funding to conduct the supplement in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, and 2017. This allows us to track contingent work over time. In May 2017, there were 5.9 million contingent workers – those who did not expect their job to last. This represented 3.8 percent of the total employed. Twelve years earlier, a slightly higher percentage, 4.1 percent, did not expect their job to last.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

How many people are in different types of jobs, such as independent contractors?

The CWS also included questions to identify people who were in four types of alternative work arrangements:

  • Independent contractors
  • On-call workers
  • Temporary help agency workers
  • Workers provided by contract firms

The most prevalent of these arrangements was independent contractors. The 10.6 million independent contractors identified in May 2017 represented 6.9 percent of the total employed.

Percent of employed in alternative arrangements

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Does BLS have a measure of the “gig” economy?

BLS does not have a definition of the gig economy or gig workers. In fact, researchers use many different definitions when they talk about the gig economy. You may think of a gig as something your high school band played on a Saturday night. Or today you might consider your ride-share driver as performing a gig. Classifying workers as gig could get very confusing. For example:

  • A plumber or electrician may be on the payroll of a contracting company on the weekdays and obtain individual jobs through an app on the weekend. Gig worker?
  • A substitute teacher in one school district may obtain assignments and pay through traditional means, while the neighboring district assigns and pays workers through an app. Is one a gig worker?

Confused? So am I. To repeat, BLS does not have a definition of gig. Definitions developed by others may overlap with contingent workers and some of those in alternative employment arrangements in the CWS. Rather than try to develop such a definition, BLS chose to focus new questions narrowly, as you will see in the next section.

What about work obtained through an app?

In preparing for the 2017 CWS, and knowing the interest in work obtained through an app on a phone or other mobile device, BLS added four questions about short jobs or tasks that workers find through an app or website that both links them with customers and arranges payment. Separate questions asked about in-person work (such as driving for a ride-sharing company or providing dog-walking services) and online-only work (such as coding medical records). At BLS, we call these jobs “electronically mediated employment.”

While BLS conducted some testing of the questions on electronically mediated employment and vetted them with a variety of stakeholders, the results made it clear that people had difficulty understanding the questions. This effort resulted in many false-positive answers, such as a surgeon who said all of his work was obtained through an app. BLS used companion information, where available, to recode responses. To be completely transparent, BLS published both the original and recoded data, but we encourage data users to focus on the recoded information. These results indicate that 1 percent of the employed in May 2017 – about 1.6 million people – held electronically mediated jobs. A slightly higher number of workers (990,000) held in-person jobs than online-only jobs (701,000). Note that some workers indicated they had both types of jobs.

Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 and older.

Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Maybe these “app” jobs are a second job. Do we know how many people hold more than one job?

We get information from the CPS each month on the number of workers who hold more than one job. In 2018, there were 7.8 million multiple jobholders – about 5.0 percent of total employment in 2018. That’s around the same share of employment it has been since 2010, but it was below the rates recorded during the mid-1990s, which were above 6.0 percent.

With all these new types of work, is the BLS monthly employment information missing anyone?

As noted, the CPS is an authoritative source of labor market information and has provided consistent data for over three-quarters of a century. But BLS is always looking to improve its measures, and there are other data sources that can supplement the CPS. For example, the American Time Use Survey obtains information about an individual’s activities during a 24-hour period. Among the categories that may be identified are “income-generating activities,” such as making pottery for pay, playing in a band for pay, and mowing lawns for pay.

Recently, BLS looked at people who were not counted as “employed” but who participate in income-generating activities. The research suggested that between 657,000 and 4.6 million people participated in income-generating activities but were not otherwise counted as employed in the survey. Given that total employment is around 155 million Americans, this undercount ranges from 0.4 to 3.0 percent of the total.

The study also examined the extent that employed people who did informal work in addition to a regular job might not be correctly classified as multiple jobholders. The research found that reclassifying workers misclassified as single jobholders would increase the number of multiple jobholders somewhere between 3.0 percent and 20.7 percent.

What more is BLS doing to improve labor market measures?

So, yes, BLS is doing a lot to improve our labor market measures, and the work continues. We know there is likely a small number of people who are not counted as employed yet perform income-generating activities. We know that definitions and concepts may need to be updated from time to time. We know that some terms, like “gig,” are not well defined and mean different things to different people. And we know it is not easy to define or identify electronically mediated employment.

Given all this, we continue to move forward. BLS has contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to convene an expert panel to address these issues and provide recommendations to BLS. This work began in late 2018 with a report due in early 2020. BLS will review the recommendations and, resources permitting, develop plans to test any new concepts or questions.

There’s been interest in emerging types of work for many years. It’s also a moving target, as the “changing nature of work” keeps changing. BLS has provided gold-standard data on America’s labor force for many years and will continue to research and refine and improve.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs
Year Percent of employed
February 1995 4.9%
February 1997 4.4
February 1999 4.3
February 2001 4.0
February 2005 4.1
May 2017 3.8
Percent of employed in alternative arrangements
Alternative arrangement May 2017 February 2005 February 2001 February 1999 February 1997 February 1995
Independent contractors 6.9% 7.4% 6.4% 6.3% 6.7% 6.7%
On-call workers 1.7 1.8 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7
Temporary help agency workers 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0
Workers provided by contract firms 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5
Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017
Workers 16 to 24 years 25 to 54 years 55 years and older
Total employed 12.4% 64.4% 23.1%
Workers with electronically mediated jobs 10.3 71.2 18.5
Electronically mediated jobs, in-person work 7.4 72.5 20.1
Electronically mediated jobs, online work 15.7 69.6 14.8

BLS Measures Electronically Mediated Work

Are you a ride-share driver using a mobile app (like Uber or Lyft) to find customers? Maybe you do household chores or yardwork for others by finding short-term jobs through a website (such as TaskRabbit or Handy) that arranges the payment for your work. Or perhaps you perform online tasks, like taking surveys or adding descriptive keywords to photos or documents through a platform (like Amazon Mechanical Turk or Clickworker). If so, you are an electronically mediated worker. That’s a term BLS uses to identify people who do short jobs or tasks they find through websites or mobile apps that connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks. Have you ever wondered how many people do this kind of work?

BLS decided to find out. In the May 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement to the Current Population Survey, we asked people four new questions designed to measure electronically mediated employment.

Measuring electronically mediated work is difficult

After studying respondents’ answers to the new questions and other information we collected about them, we realized the new questions didn’t work as intended. Most people who responded “yes” to the questions clearly had not found their work through a website or app. For example, a vice president of a major bank, a local police officer, and a surgeon at a large hospital all said they had done electronically mediated work on their main job. Many people seemed to think we were asking whether they used a computer or mobile app on their job. That could apply to many jobs that aren’t electronically mediated.

But it wasn’t all for naught. After extensive evaluation, we concluded we could use the other information in the survey about respondents’ jobs to identify and recode erroneous answers. That allowed us to produce meaningful estimates of electronically mediated employment.

So, who does electronically mediated work?

Based on our recoded data, we found that 1.6 million people did electronically mediated work in May 2017. These workers accounted for 1.0 percent of total employment. Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 or older. Electronically mediated workers also were slightly more likely to be Black, and slightly less likely to be White, than workers in general. In addition, electronically mediated workers were more likely than workers overall to work part time (28 percent versus 18 percent).

Workers in the transportation and utilities industry were the most likely to have done electronically mediated work, with 5 percent of workers in this industry having done such work. Self-employed workers were more likely than wage and salary workers to do electronically mediated work (4 percent versus 1 percent).

What’s next?

We currently don’t have plans to collect information on electronically mediated work again. And even if we did, we wouldn’t want to use the same four questions. At the least, we would need to substantially revise the questions so they are easier for people to understand and answer correctly.

Taking a broader look, we are working with the Committee on National Statistics to learn more about what we should measure if we field the survey again. The committee is a federally supported independent organization whose mission is to improve the statistical methods and information on which public policies are based.

How can I get more information?

The data are available on our website, along with an article that details how we developed the questions, evaluated the responses, recoded erroneous answers, and analyzed the final estimates.

If you have a specific question, you might find it in our Frequently Asked Questions. Or you can contact our staff.

Digging Deeper into the Details about the Unemployed

National employment indicators, such as the unemployment rate, get attention as we release them each month. In August 2018, the unemployment rate stood at 3.9 percent, the same as in July. The rate in May, 3.8 percent, was the lowest since 2000. In addition to reporting this headline number, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides considerable detail about those who are employed – and those who are unemployed. Let’s explore.

But first, a reminder. The unemployment rate and details about the unemployed come from the monthly Current Population Survey, a survey of roughly 60,000 households. We collect information about household members age 16 and over. These individuals are counted as “employed” if they say they performed at least one hour of work “for pay or profit” during the reference week, the week including the 12th of the month. People are “unemployed” if they say that during the reference week they (1) had not worked; (2) were available for work; and (3) had actively looked for work (such as submitting a job application or attending a job interview) sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week.

Together, the employed and unemployed make up the “labor force.” The unemployment rate is the share of the labor force who are unemployed. Those who are neither employed nor unemployed are “not in the labor force.” This category includes students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, people with a disability, and others who are not working or actively looking for work.

We have more measures that help to provide a fuller picture of America’s labor force. These include people who work part time but would prefer to work full time. We also count people who have searched for work in the past 12 months but not in the past 4 weeks (and are therefore not counted as unemployed). Further, we count a subset of this group who are not looking because they do not believe work is available for them. People who fall into these categories are included in the alternative measures of labor underutilization, which we publish each month.

Let’s look at the unemployed in more detail. We can sort the unemployed into 4 groups: (1) new entrants to the labor force (such as recent graduates now looking for work); (2) reentrants to the labor force (those who had a job, then left the labor force, and are now looking for work again); (3) job leavers (those who recently left a job voluntarily); and (4) job losers (those who left a job involuntarily, such as getting laid off or fired or completing temporary jobs).

Typically, the largest share of the unemployed are job losers, and this share jumps during economic downturns. While the other categories are less volatile, they make up a larger share of the total as job losers decline. For example, in August 2018, 44 percent of the unemployed were either reentrants or those who recently left a job. The share of the unemployed in both of these categories is higher than in 2009, when job losers accounted for nearly two-thirds of the unemployed. A potential reason for people to reenter the labor market, or leave an existing job to look for another, is that they perceive jobs are readily available. In periods of high unemployment, reentrants make up a smaller proportion of the unemployed. For example, when the unemployment rate reached 10.0 percent in October 2009, reentrants made up only 22 percent of the unemployed. Similarly, in 2009 and 2010, the share of the unemployed who were job leavers (those who quit their jobs voluntarily) was less than 6 percent, about half of the current share.

A chart showing the number of unemployed by the reason for unemployment from 1998 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available from our data-retrieval tool.

Another measure to assess the strength of the labor market is the number of people quitting their job. These data are from our Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That survey asks employers about the number of “separations” over the past month. It classifies separations as either quits (voluntary), layoffs or discharges (not voluntary), or other (including retirements, deaths, and disability). The most recent data, for July 2018, identified 3.6 million quits over the month, an all-time high. (The survey began in 2000.) The quit rate, which divides quits by total employment, was 2.4 percent, also close to a record high.

Most of the time, quits exceed layoffs and discharges, except in periods of high unemployment.

A chart showing the number of people each month who quit their jobs, were laid off or discharged from their job, or separated for other reasons from 2000 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available from our data-retrieval tool.

At any given time, there is a lot of movement in and out of jobs, and in and out of the labor market. And individuals have a variety of reasons for making such moves. But the overall trend in recent years toward individuals coming back into the labor market and voluntarily quitting their jobs suggests that individuals may feel that job opportunities are available.