Tag Archives: Unemployment insurance

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