Tag Archives: Unemployment

Update on the Misclassification that Affected the Unemployment Rate

How hard can it be to figure out whether a person is employed or unemployed? Turns out, it can be hard. When BLS put out the employment and unemployment numbers for March, April, and May 2020, we also provided information about misclassification of some people. I want to spend some time to explain this issue, how it affected the data, and how we are addressing it.

In the monthly Current Population Survey of U.S. households, people age 16 and older are placed into one of three categories:

  • Employed — they worked at least one hour “for pay or profit” during the past week.
  • Unemployed — they did not work but actively looked for work during the past 4 weeks OR they were on temporary layoff and expect to return to work.
  • Not in the labor force — everyone else (including students, retirees, those who have given up their job search, and others).

Again, how hard can this be? It starts to get tricky when we talk to people who say they have a steady job but did not work any hours during the past week. In normal times, this might include people on vacation, home sick, or on jury duty. And we would continue to count them as employed. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the collapse of labor markets created challenges the likes of which BLS has never encountered. People who reported zero hours of work offered such explanations as “I work at a sports arena and everything is postponed” or “the restaurant I work at is closed.” These people should be counted as unemployed on temporary layoff. As it turns out, a large number of people—we estimate about 4.9 million in May—were misclassified.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate—at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in February—rose sharply to 4.4 percent in March and to 14.7 percent in April, before easing to 13.3 percent in May. Despite the stark difference from February, we believe the unemployment rate likely was higher than reported in March, April, and May. As stated in our Employment Situation news releases for each of those months, some people in the Current Population Survey (also known as the CPS or household survey) were classified as employed but probably should have been classified as unemployed.

How did the misclassification happen?

We uncovered the misclassification because we saw a sharp rise in the number of people who were employed but were absent from their jobs for the entire reference week for “other reasons.” The misclassification hinges on how survey interviewers record answers to a question on why people who had a job were absent from work the previous week.

According to special pandemic-related interviewer instructions for this question, answers from people who said they were absent because of pandemic-related business closures should have been recorded as “on layoff (temporary or indefinite).” Instead, many of these answers were recorded as “other reasons.” Recording these answers as “on layoff (temporary or indefinite)” ensures that people are asked the follow-up questions needed to classify them as unemployed. It does not necessarily mean they would be classified as unemployed on temporary layoff, but I’ll get into that in a moment.

When interviewers record a response of “other reasons” to this question, they also add a few words describing that other reason. BLS reviewed these descriptions to better understand the large increase in the number of people absent from work for “other reasons.” Our analysis suggests this group of people included many who were on layoff because of the pandemic. They would have been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff had their answers been recorded correctly.

What are BLS and the Census Bureau doing to address the misclassification?

BLS and our partners at the U.S. Census Bureau take misclassification very seriously. We’re taking more steps to fix this problem. (The Census Bureau is responsible for collecting the household survey data, and BLS is responsible for analyzing and publishing the labor market data from the survey.) Both agencies are continuing to investigate why the misclassification occurred.

Before the March data collection, we anticipated some issues with certain questions in the survey because of the unprecedented nature of this national crisis. As a result, interviewers received special instructions on how to answer the temporarily absent question if a person said they had a job but did not work because of the pandemic. Nevertheless, we determined that not all of the responses to this question in March were coded according to the special instructions. Therefore, before the April data collection, all interviewers received an email that included instructions with more detailed examples, along with a reference table to help them code responses to this question. However, the misclassification was still evident in the April data. Before the May data collection, every field supervisor had a conference call with the interviewers they manage. In these conference calls, the supervisors reviewed the detailed instructions, provided examples to clarify the instructions, and answered interviewers’ questions.

Although we noticed some improvement for May, the misclassification persisted. Therefore, we have taken more steps to correct the problem. Before the June collection, the Census Bureau provided more training to review the guidance to the interviewers. The interviewers also received extra training aids. The electronic survey questionnaire also now has new special instructions that will be more accessible during survey interviews.

Why doesn’t BLS adjust the unemployment rate to account for the misclassification?

As I explained above, we know some workers classified as absent from work for “other reasons” are misclassified. People have asked why we just don’t reclassify these people from employed to unemployed. The answer is there is no easy correction we could have made. Changing a person’s labor force classification would involve more than changing the response to the question about why people were absent from their jobs.

Although we believe many responses to the question on why people were absent from their jobs appear to have been incorrectly recorded, we do not have enough information to reclassify each person’s labor force status. To begin with, we don’t know the exact information provided by the person responding to the survey. We know the brief descriptions included in the “other reasons” category often appear to go against the guidance provided to the survey interviewers. But we don’t have all of the information the respondent might have provided during the interview.

Also, we don’t know the answers to the questions respondents would have been asked if their answers to the question on the reason not at work had been coded differently. This is because people whose answers were recorded as absent from work for “other reasons” were not asked the follow-up questions needed to determine whether they should be classified as unemployed. Specifically, we don’t know whether they expected to be recalled to work and whether they could return to work if recalled. Therefore, shifting people’s answers from “other reasons” to “on layoff (temporary or indefinite)” would not have been enough to change their classification from employed to unemployed. We would have had to assume how they would have responded to the follow-up questions. Had we changed answers based on wrong assumptions, we would have introduced more error.

In addition, our usual practice is to accept data from the household survey as recorded. In the 80-year history of the household survey, we do not know of any actions taken on an ad hoc basis to change respondents’ answers to the labor force questions. Any ad hoc adjustment we could have made would have relied on assumptions instead of data. If BLS were to make ad hoc changes, it could also appear we were manipulating the data. That’s something we’ll never do.

How much did the misclassification affect the unemployment rate?

We don’t know the exact extent of this misclassification. To figure out what the unemployment rate might have been if there were no misclassification, we have to make some assumptions. These assumptions involve deciding (1) how many people in the “other reasons” category actually were misclassified, (2) how many people who were misclassified expected to be recalled, and (3) how many people who were misclassified were available to return to work.

In the material that accompanied our Employment Situation news releases for March, April, and May, we provided an estimate of the potential size of the misclassification and its impact on the unemployment rate. Here we assumed all of the increase in the number of employed people who were not at work for “other reasons,” when compared with the average for recent years, was due solely to misclassification. We also assumed all of these people expected to be recalled and were available to return to work.

For example, there were 5.4 million workers with a job but not at work who were included in the “other reasons” category in May 2020. That was about 4.9 million higher than the average for May 2016–19. If we assume this 4.9 million increase was entirely due to misclassification and all of these misclassified workers expected to be recalled and were available for work, the unemployment rate for May would have been 16.4 percent. (For more information about this, see items 12 and 13 in our note for May. We made similar calculations for March and April.)

These broad assumptions represent the upper bound of our estimate of misclassification. These assumptions result in the largest number of people being classified as unemployed and the largest increase in the unemployment rate. However, these assumptions probably overstate the size of the misclassification. It is unlikely that everyone who was misclassified expected to be recalled and was available to return to work. It is also unlikely that all of the increase in the number of employed people not at work for “other reasons” was due to misclassification. People may be correctly classified in the “other reasons” category. For example, someone who owns a business (and does not have another job) is classified as employed in the household survey. Business owners who are absent from work due to labor market downturns (or in this case, pandemic-related business closures) should be classified as employed but absent from work for “other reasons.”

Regardless of the assumptions we might make about misclassification, the trend in the unemployment rate over the period in question is the same; the rate increased in March and April and eased in May. BLS will continue to investigate the issue, attempting both to ensure that data are correctly recorded in future months and to provide more information about the effect of misclassification on the unemployment rate.

How Many Unemployed People? Comparing Survey Data and Unemployment Insurance Counts

More than 37 million people filed for unemployment insurance benefits in the 10 weeks from the week ending March 21 to the week ending May 23. The unemployment rate in April was 14.7 percent. Or was it 19.5 percent? There were 23 million people counted as unemployed in mid-April, and 18 million people received unemployment insurance (UI) benefits at that time. How can all of these things be true? What’s the real story?

Back in October, I set the record straight on how counts of people receiving unemployment insurance benefits differ from how BLS measures unemployment. These two measures offer distinct but related measures of trends in joblessness, some of which I will explore here. I will focus only on data from states’ regular UI programs, but other programs exist as well. Here’s the bottom line: When all is said and done, the two measures track each other very closely.

The number of people filing for UI benefits reached record levels in recent weeks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it. The UI claims numbers don’t come from BLS but rather from our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. Their count of people receiving UI benefits hit its highest level ever, nearly 23 million (not seasonally adjusted), for the week ending May 9. Their separate count of people filing new UI claims hit a record high of more than 6 million people in early April.

UI Continued Claimed versus Total Unemployed

First, the contrasts. The Employment and Training Administration publishes weekly counts of UI claims. The UI claims data include both initial claims and continued claims.

  • Initial claims: A count of the new claims people filed to request UI benefits. These claims won’t necessarily all be approved if, for example, a state UI program determines the person isn’t eligible to receive benefits.
  • Continued claims: A count of claims for those who have already filed initial claims and who have experienced a week of unemployment. These people then file a continued claim to receive benefits for that week of unemployment. Continued claims are also called insured unemployment.

Interviewers for the BLS Current Population Survey contact households once a month to ask questions about employment, job search, and other labor market topics for the week containing the 12th of the month. The monthly labor market survey counts people as unemployed if they meet all of these conditions:

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

People counted in the survey as unemployed may or may not be eligible for UI benefits.

Counts of continued UI claims track pretty well with our survey measures of unemployment. The two measures run mostly parallel but at different levels over time. The chart below shows some history through the reference week of the survey data for April 2020.

Continued unemployment insurance claims and total unemployed, 1994–2020, not seasonally adjusted

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

The gap between the two measures shows how the survey captures millions of unemployed people who do not receive UI benefits. This gap partly results from states’ eligibility requirements for their UI programs.

UI Continued Claims versus Job Losers

Our monthly labor market survey lets us see more detail about the characteristics of people who are unemployed. One characteristic is the reason for a person’s unemployment.

  • Some people are labor force entrants or reentrants if they did not have a job immediately before starting their job search.
  • Others quit or leave their job voluntarily and are job leavers.
  • The rest become unemployed by losing their job in one of the following ways:
    • Being permanently laid off
    • Being temporarily laid off
    • Completing a temporary job

People who become unemployed after losing their jobs are job losers. Job losers are more likely to be eligible for UI benefits. Data for this group more closely track the continued claims data.

Continued unemployment insurance claims and unemployed job losers, 1994–2020, not seasonally adjusted

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

To narrow the gap even more, we know the time limits all regular UI programs have for receiving benefits. These limits vary by state, but states rarely offer more than 26 weeks of benefits in their regular program. Our survey estimates of job losers unemployed 26 weeks or fewer track more closely with UI continued claims.

Continued unemployment insurance claims and unemployed job losers who were unemployed 26 weeks or fewer, 1994–2020, not seasonally adjusted

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

Current Trends

Let’s focus on these two measures since last fall. We can see they track even more closely through the April survey reference week.

Continued unemployment insurance claims and unemployed job losers who were unemployed 26 weeks or fewer, November 2019 to May 2020, not seasonally adjusted

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

Labor market data from BLS have always been essential for understanding our economy. Good data—from many sources—are even more essential now, both for guiding the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and for tracking its economic impact and recovery. The labor market impacts from the pandemic have been so massive and happened so quickly that policymakers, businesses, and workers have wanted data in almost real time. Our monthly surveys weren’t designed to provide data quite that rapidly, but combining data from multiple sources and understanding how those measures track one another can provide more insight than any single source. We’ve been thinking a lot in recent years about how to complement our survey data with high-frequency information from other sources. I’ve written about some of those efforts and will continue to do so. This pandemic will sharpen our focus on innovating to provide gold standard data for the public good.

Continued unemployment insurance claims and Current Population Survey measures of unemployed, not seasonally adjusted
DateCurrent Population Survey unemployedCurrent Population Survey unemployed job losersCurrent Population Survey unemployed job losers who were unemployed 26 weeks or fewerUnemployment insurance continued claims under state programs

1/15/1994

9,492,0005,215,0004,204,0003,142,036

2/12/1994

9,262,0004,925,0003,968,0003,529,168

3/12/1994

8,874,0004,522,0003,577,0003,255,495

4/16/1994

8,078,0003,832,0002,959,0002,780,268

5/14/1994

7,656,0003,319,0002,520,0002,558,790

6/18/1994

8,251,0003,459,0002,722,0002,399,131

7/16/1994

8,281,0003,701,0002,919,0002,616,255

8/13/1994

7,868,0003,565,0002,832,0002,382,494

9/17/1994

7,379,0003,206,0002,543,0002,095,343

10/15/1994

7,155,0003,168,0002,557,0002,119,751

11/12/1994

6,973,0003,366,0002,759,0002,246,077

12/10/1994

6,690,0003,514,0002,947,0002,501,945

1/14/1995

8,101,0004,350,0003,697,0003,045,968

2/18/1995

7,685,0003,923,0003,288,0003,011,244

3/18/1995

7,480,0003,718,0003,112,0002,872,790

4/15/1995

7,378,0003,479,0002,817,0002,578,113

5/13/1995

7,185,0003,275,0002,697,0002,362,466

6/17/1995

7,727,0003,160,0002,615,0002,321,295

7/15/1995

7,892,0003,470,0002,899,0002,643,997

8/12/1995

7,457,0003,331,0002,823,0002,363,074

9/16/1995

7,167,0003,017,0002,492,0002,110,587

10/14/1995

6,884,0003,104,0002,588,0002,154,971

11/18/1995

7,024,0003,355,0002,851,0002,095,335

12/9/1995

6,872,0003,533,0003,065,0002,596,696

1/13/1996

8,270,0004,425,0003,884,0003,211,081

2/17/1996

7,858,0004,099,0003,517,0003,234,481

3/16/1996

7,700,0003,849,0003,248,0003,086,902

4/13/1996

7,124,0003,610,0002,903,0002,753,405

5/18/1996

7,166,0003,164,0002,643,0002,314,322

6/15/1996

7,377,0003,116,0002,570,0002,285,632

7/13/1996

7,693,0003,323,0002,717,0002,494,226

8/17/1996

6,868,0002,932,0002,451,0002,219,197

9/14/1996

6,700,0002,812,0002,375,0002,007,009

10/12/1996

6,577,0002,757,0002,320,0001,910,925

11/16/1996

6,816,0003,126,0002,677,0002,169,112

12/7/1996

6,680,0003,230,0002,805,0002,406,303

1/18/1997

7,933,0004,027,0003,561,0002,975,311

2/15/1997

7,647,0003,659,0003,158,0002,903,673

3/15/1997

7,399,0003,493,0003,026,0002,719,345

4/12/1997

6,551,0003,050,0002,593,0002,392,620

5/17/1997

6,398,0002,696,0002,318,0002,039,498

6/14/1997

7,094,0002,878,0002,457,0002,008,106

7/12/1997

6,981,0002,895,0002,405,0002,273,294

8/16/1997

6,594,0002,859,0002,374,0002,047,159

9/13/1997

6,403,0002,616,0002,190,0001,797,836

10/18/1997

5,995,0002,525,0002,105,0001,761,841

11/15/1997

5,914,0002,698,0002,319,0001,977,179

12/13/1997

5,957,0003,051,0002,663,0002,251,072

1/17/1998

7,069,0003,556,0003,136,0002,726,043

2/14/1998

6,804,0003,254,0002,868,0002,660,864

3/14/1998

6,816,0003,311,0002,906,0002,590,407

4/18/1998

5,643,0002,647,0002,262,0002,181,018

5/16/1998

5,764,0002,517,0002,196,0001,895,102

6/13/1998

6,534,0002,628,0002,316,0001,908,179

7/18/1998

6,567,0002,847,0002,499,0002,277,800

8/15/1998

6,173,0002,715,0002,365,0001,987,304

9/12/1998

6,039,0002,534,0002,169,0001,805,455

10/17/1998

5,831,0002,426,0002,109,0001,735,477

11/14/1998

5,711,0002,587,0002,299,0001,944,590

12/12/1998

5,565,0002,849,0002,537,0002,232,312

1/16/1999

6,604,0003,394,0003,095,0002,808,153

2/13/1999

6,563,0003,151,0002,859,0002,669,301

3/13/1999

6,119,0002,888,0002,597,0002,581,727

4/17/1999

5,688,0002,633,0002,360,0002,219,359

5/15/1999

5,507,0002,362,0002,107,0002,016,349

6/12/1999

6,271,0002,495,0002,204,0001,963,530

7/17/1999

6,319,0002,729,0002,422,0002,181,103

8/14/1999

5,826,0002,559,0002,251,0001,978,309

9/18/1999

5,661,0002,299,0002,039,0001,728,476

10/16/1999

5,372,0002,162,0001,935,0001,705,790

11/13/1999

5,380,0002,340,0002,092,0001,828,872

12/11/1999

5,245,0002,451,0002,193,0002,094,337

1/15/2000

6,316,0003,134,0002,808,0002,531,224

2/12/2000

6,284,0003,066,0002,771,0002,604,156

3/18/2000

6,069,0002,802,0002,535,0002,277,154

4/15/2000

5,212,0002,259,0002,027,0001,975,507

5/13/2000

5,460,0002,196,0001,957,0001,783,386

6/17/2000

5,959,0002,303,0002,080,0001,812,319

7/15/2000

6,028,0002,508,0002,273,0002,107,129

8/12/2000

5,863,0002,570,0002,317,0001,933,774

9/16/2000

5,359,0002,284,0002,010,0001,709,044

10/14/2000

5,153,0002,105,0001,857,0001,735,297

11/18/2000

5,336,0002,355,0002,108,0001,822,245

12/9/2000

5,264,0002,618,0002,376,0002,261,776

1/13/2001

6,647,0003,449,0003,162,0002,787,024

2/17/2001

6,523,0003,343,0003,061,0002,954,857

3/17/2001

6,509,0003,379,0003,047,0002,932,361

4/14/2001

6,004,0003,027,0002,697,0002,772,097

5/12/2001

5,901,0002,839,0002,578,0002,554,830

6/16/2001

6,816,0003,136,0002,833,0002,634,433

7/14/2001

6,858,0003,372,0003,060,0003,053,451

8/18/2001

7,017,0003,379,0003,004,0002,793,540

9/15/2001

6,766,0003,294,0002,961,0002,630,082

10/13/2001

7,175,0003,753,0003,356,0002,888,718

11/17/2001

7,617,0004,252,0003,738,0003,105,348

12/8/2001

7,773,0004,485,0003,937,0003,604,679

1/12/2002

9,051,0005,449,0004,757,0004,234,835

2/16/2002

8,823,0005,105,0004,457,0004,206,538

3/16/2002

8,776,0004,861,0004,145,0004,078,226

4/13/2002

8,255,0004,550,0003,744,0003,731,669

5/18/2002

7,969,0004,180,0003,293,0003,314,004

6/15/2002

8,758,0004,429,0003,547,0003,248,721

7/13/2002

8,693,0004,607,0003,673,0003,518,751

8/17/2002

8,271,0004,427,0003,545,0003,195,935

9/14/2002

7,790,0004,123,0003,170,0002,947,854

10/12/2002

7,769,0004,151,0003,181,0002,912,625

11/16/2002

8,170,0004,555,0003,521,0003,205,969

12/7/2002

8,209,0004,849,0003,718,0003,481,337

1/18/2003

9,395,0005,641,0004,564,0004,011,764

2/15/2003

9,260,0005,487,0004,336,0004,042,069

3/15/2003

9,018,0005,150,0004,047,0004,009,388

4/12/2003

8,501,0004,716,0003,526,0003,693,322

5/17/2003

8,500,0004,589,0003,475,0003,341,816

6/14/2003

9,649,0004,775,0003,654,0003,334,821

7/12/2003

9,319,0004,958,0003,842,0003,635,324

8/16/2003

8,830,0004,789,0003,715,0003,278,613

9/13/2003

8,436,0004,500,0003,363,0002,985,665

10/18/2003

8,169,0004,319,0003,206,0002,944,236

11/15/2003

8,269,0004,505,0003,401,0003,090,089

12/13/2003

7,945,0004,629,0003,598,0003,338,180

1/17/2004

9,144,0005,195,0004,063,0003,754,598

2/14/2004

8,770,0004,888,0003,838,0003,690,774

3/13/2004

8,834,0004,920,0003,765,0003,466,491

4/17/2004

7,837,0004,253,0003,255,0002,994,939

5/15/2004

7,792,0003,778,0002,845,0002,690,913

6/12/2004

8,616,0003,930,0003,010,0002,685,110

7/17/2004

8,518,0004,233,0003,372,0002,892,369

8/14/2004

7,940,0003,809,0002,982,0002,639,474

9/18/2004

7,545,0003,644,0002,853,0002,342,492

10/16/2004

7,531,0003,653,0002,832,0002,348,403

11/13/2004

7,665,0003,898,0003,103,0002,481,768

12/11/2004

7,599,0004,166,0003,320,0002,781,151

1/15/2005

8,444,0004,771,0003,905,0003,269,319

2/12/2005

8,549,0004,461,0003,624,0003,200,271

3/12/2005

7,986,0004,067,0003,289,0003,044,727

4/16/2005

7,335,0003,559,0002,787,0002,565,759

5/14/2005

7,287,0003,265,0002,606,0002,347,511

6/18/2005

7,870,0003,482,0002,883,0002,354,977

7/16/2005

7,839,0003,618,0003,034,0002,581,153

8/13/2005

7,327,0003,297,0002,705,0002,361,634

9/17/2005

7,259,0003,373,0002,775,0002,293,043

10/15/2005

6,964,0003,162,0002,535,0002,377,075

11/12/2005

7,271,0003,329,0002,687,0002,515,835

12/10/2005

6,956,0003,622,0003,000,0002,659,503

1/14/2006

7,608,0003,990,0003,419,0003,010,836

2/18/2006

7,692,0003,846,0003,233,0002,865,435

3/18/2006

7,255,0003,707,0003,108,0002,712,772

4/15/2006

6,804,0003,426,0002,771,0002,430,217

5/13/2006

6,655,0003,152,0002,546,0002,183,176

6/17/2006

7,341,0003,222,0002,718,0002,177,172

7/15/2006

7,602,0003,374,0002,820,0002,450,260

8/12/2006

7,086,0003,132,0002,585,0002,283,575

9/16/2006

6,625,0002,878,0002,366,0002,022,552

10/14/2006

6,272,0002,724,0002,247,0002,077,157

11/11/2006

6,576,0003,025,0002,555,0002,231,475

12/9/2006

6,491,0003,374,0002,928,0002,536,673

1/13/2007

7,649,0004,127,0003,668,0002,887,810

2/17/2007

7,400,0003,942,0003,425,0003,037,700

3/17/2007

6,913,0003,487,0002,987,0002,788,224

4/14/2007

6,532,0003,249,0002,724,0002,598,802

5/12/2007

6,486,0003,070,0002,591,0002,293,089

6/16/2007

7,295,0003,241,0002,752,0002,241,672

7/14/2007

7,556,0003,730,0003,157,0002,548,427

8/18/2007

7,088,0003,472,0002,899,0002,335,412

9/15/2007

6,952,0003,208,0002,645,0002,128,411

10/13/2007

6,773,0003,259,0002,668,0002,143,999

11/10/2007

6,917,0003,382,0002,814,0002,260,475

12/8/2007

7,371,0004,013,0003,396,0002,665,956

1/12/2008

8,221,0004,608,0003,951,0003,242,075

2/16/2008

7,953,0004,471,0003,805,0003,265,157

3/15/2008

8,027,0004,555,0003,922,0003,220,809

4/12/2008

7,287,0003,931,0003,212,0003,018,445

5/17/2008

8,076,0003,949,0003,204,0002,759,158

6/14/2008

8,933,0004,201,0003,451,0002,801,895

7/12/2008

9,433,0004,562,0003,782,0003,097,770

8/16/2008

9,479,0004,735,0003,855,0003,112,252

9/13/2008

9,199,0004,699,0003,655,0002,957,202

10/18/2008

9,469,0005,138,0004,006,0003,188,153

11/15/2008

10,015,0005,746,0004,609,0003,714,261

12/13/2008

10,999,0006,878,0005,483,0004,531,208

1/17/2009

13,009,0008,633,0007,041,0005,647,319

2/14/2009

13,699,0009,098,0007,380,0006,031,637

3/14/2009

13,895,0009,315,0007,347,0006,354,009

4/18/2009

13,248,0008,687,0006,347,0006,237,658

5/16/2009

13,973,0008,930,0006,531,0006,049,295

6/13/2009

15,095,0009,194,0006,567,0006,012,730

7/18/2009

15,201,0009,447,0006,275,0005,989,877

8/15/2009

14,823,0009,316,0005,955,0005,578,533

9/12/2009

14,538,0009,170,0005,520,0005,131,447

10/17/2009

14,547,0009,176,0005,482,0004,893,301

11/14/2009

14,407,0009,130,0005,237,0004,996,155

12/12/2009

14,740,0009,822,0005,881,0005,262,045

1/16/2010

16,147,00010,574,0006,302,0005,538,244

2/13/2010

15,991,00010,664,0006,347,0005,465,212

3/13/2010

15,678,00010,311,0005,880,0005,270,644

4/17/2010

14,609,0009,110,0004,607,0004,715,968

5/15/2010

14,369,0008,812,0004,484,0004,333,973

6/12/2010

14,885,0008,769,0004,606,0004,226,459

7/17/2010

15,137,0008,964,0004,695,0004,471,386

8/14/2010

14,759,0008,894,0004,724,0004,138,097

9/18/2010

14,140,0008,651,0004,526,0003,737,930

10/16/2010

13,903,0008,331,0004,306,0003,697,842

11/13/2010

14,282,0008,926,0004,787,0003,804,696

12/11/2010

13,997,0008,995,0004,986,0004,119,344

1/15/2011

14,937,0009,520,0005,545,0004,552,936

2/12/2011

14,542,0009,212,0005,403,0004,521,733

3/12/2011

14,060,0008,841,0004,874,0004,215,458

4/16/2011

13,237,0007,958,0004,276,0003,726,578

5/14/2011

13,421,0007,885,0004,051,0003,492,720

6/18/2011

14,409,0007,940,0004,315,0003,454,731

7/16/2011

14,428,0008,107,0004,441,0003,695,537

8/13/2011

14,008,0007,897,0004,395,0003,497,400

9/17/2011

13,520,0007,636,0003,849,0003,150,942

10/15/2011

13,102,0007,390,0003,911,0003,141,911

11/12/2011

12,613,0007,201,0003,813,0003,323,025

12/10/2011

12,692,0007,691,0004,392,0003,571,487

1/14/2012

13,541,0008,234,0004,977,0004,019,589

2/18/2012

13,430,0007,866,0004,783,0003,834,179

3/17/2012

12,904,0007,415,0004,394,0003,650,071

4/14/2012

11,910,0006,555,0003,580,0003,377,436

5/12/2012

12,271,0006,607,0003,601,0003,079,181

6/16/2012

13,184,0006,927,0003,973,0003,069,545

7/14/2012

13,400,0007,151,0004,248,0003,288,629

8/18/2012

12,696,0006,820,0004,003,0003,068,519

9/15/2012

11,742,0006,161,0003,497,0002,796,675

10/13/2012

11,741,0006,125,0003,428,0002,772,151

11/10/2012

11,404,0006,069,0003,520,0002,902,343

12/8/2012

11,844,0006,592,0004,086,0003,203,819

1/12/2013

13,181,0007,575,0005,046,0003,661,355

2/16/2013

12,500,0007,130,0004,468,0003,483,983

3/16/2013

11,815,0006,638,0004,024,0003,345,945

4/13/2013

11,014,0006,079,0003,642,0003,049,657

5/18/2013

11,302,0005,751,0003,437,0002,752,679

6/15/2013

12,248,0005,939,0003,794,0002,745,766

7/13/2013

12,083,0005,934,0003,771,0002,995,510

8/17/2013

11,462,0005,856,0003,677,0002,772,037

9/14/2013

10,885,0005,470,0003,409,0002,412,302

10/12/2013

10,773,0005,649,0003,657,0002,418,279

11/9/2013

10,271,0005,400,0003,371,0002,514,678

12/7/2013

9,984,0005,460,0003,492,0002,838,295

1/18/2014

10,855,0006,152,0004,163,0003,334,697

2/15/2014

10,893,0006,024,0004,089,0003,329,510

3/15/2014

10,537,0005,779,0003,853,0003,096,231

4/12/2014

9,079,0004,972,0003,100,0002,721,859

5/17/2014

9,443,0004,613,0002,948,0002,421,319

6/14/2014

9,893,0004,670,0003,239,0002,372,393

7/12/2014

10,307,0004,867,0003,359,0002,518,959

8/16/2014

9,787,0004,750,0003,442,0002,363,077

9/13/2014

8,962,0004,176,0002,774,0002,076,867

10/18/2014

8,680,0003,995,0002,682,0002,046,031

11/15/2014

8,630,0004,182,0002,954,0002,158,767

12/13/2014

8,331,0004,355,0003,083,0002,445,747

1/17/2015

9,498,0004,912,0003,601,0002,750,868

2/14/2015

9,095,0004,721,0003,514,0002,720,615

3/14/2015

8,682,0004,503,0003,259,0002,674,331

4/18/2015

7,966,0003,977,0002,789,0002,251,252

5/16/2015

8,370,0003,962,0002,850,0002,047,456

6/13/2015

8,638,0003,951,0003,029,0002,066,476

7/18/2015

8,805,0004,204,0003,207,0002,217,720

8/15/2015

8,162,0003,987,0002,968,0002,124,998

9/12/2015

7,628,0003,509,0002,647,0001,903,085

10/17/2015

7,597,0003,576,0002,678,0001,825,692

11/14/2015

7,573,0003,633,0002,815,0001,970,435

12/12/2015

7,542,0003,820,0002,964,0002,255,937

1/16/2016

8,309,0004,287,0003,357,0002,624,638

2/13/2016

8,219,0004,244,0003,299,0002,582,311

3/12/2016

8,116,0004,149,0003,123,0002,461,697

4/16/2016

7,413,0003,716,0002,761,0002,126,849

5/14/2016

7,207,0003,322,0002,480,0001,982,730

6/18/2016

8,144,0003,677,0002,855,0001,975,334

7/16/2016

8,267,0003,869,0003,001,0002,109,038

8/13/2016

7,996,0003,787,0002,918,0002,030,018

9/17/2016

7,658,0003,536,0002,660,0001,728,317

10/15/2016

7,447,0003,352,0002,551,0001,710,066

11/12/2016

7,066,0003,271,0002,490,0001,828,034

12/10/2016

7,170,0003,668,0002,917,0002,071,781

1/14/2017

8,149,0004,361,0003,481,0002,437,106

2/18/2017

7,887,0004,184,0003,335,0002,364,751

3/18/2017

7,284,0003,812,0002,990,0002,256,527

4/15/2017

6,555,0003,369,0002,561,0001,984,675

5/13/2017

6,572,0003,017,0002,317,0001,757,086

6/17/2017

7,250,0003,359,0002,698,0001,780,061

7/15/2017

7,441,0003,519,0002,822,0001,936,985

8/12/2017

7,287,0003,536,0002,866,0001,851,667

9/16/2017

6,556,0002,992,0002,314,0001,611,895

10/14/2017

6,242,0002,859,0002,252,0001,572,784

11/11/2017

6,286,0002,907,0002,289,0001,672,980

12/9/2017

6,278,0003,298,0002,715,0001,909,886

1/13/2018

7,189,0003,891,0003,259,0002,242,438

2/17/2018

7,091,0003,716,0003,069,0002,226,157

3/17/2018

6,671,0003,375,0002,799,0002,082,891

4/14/2018

5,932,0002,805,0002,272,0001,841,572

5/12/2018

5,756,0002,493,0002,004,0001,584,129

6/16/2018

6,812,0003,022,0002,511,0001,564,998

7/14/2018

6,730,0003,164,0002,551,0001,738,468

8/18/2018

6,370,0002,885,0002,291,0001,605,843

9/15/2018

5,766,0002,474,0001,912,0001,396,832

10/13/2018

5,771,0002,510,0001,958,0001,353,628

11/10/2018

5,650,0002,598,0002,107,0001,429,209

12/8/2018

6,029,0002,947,0002,443,0001,703,504

1/12/2019

7,140,0003,791,0003,291,0002,070,444

2/16/2019

6,625,0003,300,0002,760,0002,107,108

3/16/2019

6,382,0003,098,0002,513,0001,990,542

4/13/2019

5,387,0002,484,0001,984,0001,686,671

5/18/2019

5,503,0002,281,0001,783,0001,491,921

6/15/2019

6,292,0002,703,0002,196,0001,538,052

7/13/2019

6,556,0002,986,0002,483,0001,673,714

8/17/2019

6,203,0002,906,0002,418,0001,594,845

9/14/2019

5,465,0002,227,0001,711,0001,379,722

10/12/2019

5,510,0002,340,0001,889,0001,366,544

11/9/2019

5,441,0002,561,0002,123,0001,439,799

12/7/2019

5,503,0002,752,0002,361,0001,707,456

1/18/2020

6,504,0003,267,0002,808,0002,053,978

2/15/2020

6,218,0003,151,0002,712,0002,036,213

3/14/2020

7,370,0004,441,0003,907,0002,055,283

4/18/2020

22,504,00020,384,00019,953,00017,601,283
Continued unemployment insurance claims and unemployed job losers who were unemployed 26 weeks or fewer, not seasonally adjusted
DateCurrent Population Survey unemployed job losers who were unemployed 26 weeks or fewerUnemployment insurance continued claims under state programs

11/2/2019

1,428,992

11/9/2019

2,123,0001,439,799

11/16/2019

1,523,691

11/23/2019

1,488,691

11/30/2019

1,733,682

12/7/2019

2,361,0001,707,456

12/14/2019

1,780,860

12/21/2019

1,760,439

12/28/2019

2,124,746

1/4/2020

2,229,673

1/11/2020

2,114,161

1/18/2020

2,808,0002,053,978

1/25/2020

2,125,243

2/1/2020

2,060,389

2/8/2020

2,073,658

2/15/2020

2,712,0002,036,213

2/22/2020

2,079,249

2/29/2020

2,032,792

3/7/2020

1,954,265

3/14/2020

3,907,0002,055,283

3/21/2020

3,391,238

3/28/2020

8,107,677

4/4/2020

12,356,980

4/11/2020

16,138,295

4/18/2020

19,953,00017,601,283

4/25/2020

21,576,373

5/2/2020

20,733,760

5/9/2020

22,637,743

5/16/2020

18,855,114

Ensuring Security and Fairness in the Release of Economic Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is the gold standard of accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible statistical data, and I am committed to keeping it that way. As Commissioner, it is my obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our data and to make sure everyone has equitable access to these data.

One step toward equitable access and data security is coming soon; on March 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will eliminate all electronics from the lock-up facility where we allow members of the media to review economic releases and prepare news stories before the official release of the data. We are changing the procedures to better protect our statistical information from premature disclosure and to ensure fairness in providing our information to the public.

For many years the news media have helped BLS and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) inform the public about our data. Since the mid-1980s, BLS and ETA have provided prerelease data access to news organizations under strict embargoes, known as “lock-ups.” We have provided this early access consistent with federal Statistical Policy Directives of the Office of Management and Budget. BLS uses the lock-up for several major releases each month, including the Employment Situation and Consumer Price Index. ETA uses the lock-up for the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims data. These economic data have significant commercial value and may affect the movement of commodity and financial markets upon release.

Because of technological advancements, the current lock-up procedure creates an unfair competitive advantage for lock-up participants who provide BLS data to trading companies. Today, the internet permits anyone in the world to obtain economic releases for themselves directly from the BLS or DOL websites. However, unlike media organizations with computer access in the current lock-up, others who use the data do not have up to 30 minutes before the official release to process the data. Their postings about the data may lag behind those released directly from the lock-up at official publication time, 8:30 a.m. Eastern. High-speed algorithmic trading technology now gives a notable competitive advantage to market participants who have even a few microseconds head start. To eliminate this advantage and further protect our data from inadvertent or purposeful prerelease, no computers or any other electronic devices will be allowed in the lock-up.

In recent years, BLS and ETA have devoted significant resources to introducing improved technologies that strengthen our infrastructure and ensure data are posted to the BLS or DOL websites immediately following the official release time.

We at BLS and ETA are committed to the principle of a level playing field—our data must be made available to all users at the same time. We are equally committed to protecting our data. We are now positioned to continue helping the media produce accurate stories about the data, while also ensuring that all parties, including the media, businesses, and the general public, will have equitable and timely access to our most sensitive data.

You can find more details about these changes in our notice to lock-up participants. We also have a set of questions and answers about the changes to the lock-up procedures.

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

Labor Day 2019 Fast Facts

I have been Commissioner of Labor Statistics for 5 months now, and I continue to be amazed by the range and quality of data we publish about the U.S. labor market and the well-being of American workers. As we like to say at BLS, we really do have a stat for that! We won’t rest on what we have done, however. We continue to strive for more data and better data to help workers, jobseekers, students, businesses, and policymakers make informed decisions. Labor Day is a good time to reflect on where we are. This year is the 125th anniversary of celebrating Labor Day as a national holiday. Before you set out to enjoy the long holiday weekend, take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled on the current picture of our labor market.

Working

Working or Looking for Work

  • The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 63.0 percent in July 2019. The rate had trended down from the 2000s through the early 2010s, but it has remained fairly steady since 2014.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July. In April and May, the rate hit its lowest point, 3.6 percent, since 1969.
  • In July, there were 1.2 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 19.2 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share in late 2006.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 12.8 percent in July 2019, while the rates were 3.4 percent for both adult women and adult men. The unemployment rate was 6.0 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 4.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 2.8 percent for Asians, and 3.3 percent for Whites.

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.6 percent from July 2018 to July 2019. After adjusting for inflation in consumer prices, real average weekly earnings were up 0.8 percent during this period.
  • Civilian compensation (wage and benefit) costs increased 2.7 percent in June 2019 from a year earlier. After adjusting for inflation, real compensation costs rose 1.1 percent over the year.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to most private industry workers. The access rates in March 2018 were 71 percent for sick leave, 77 percent for vacation, and 78 percent for holidays.
  • About 91 percent of civilian workers with access to paid holidays receive Labor Day as a paid holiday.
  • In March 2018, civilian workers with employer-provided medical plans paid 20 percent of the cost of medical care premiums for single coverage and 32 percent for family coverage.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity—output per hour worked—in the U.S. nonfarm business sector grew 1.8 percent from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2019.
  • Some industries had much faster growth in 2018, including electronic shopping and mail-order houses (10.6 percent) and wireless telecommunications carriers (10.1 percent).
  • Multifactor productivity in the private nonfarm business sector rose 1.0 percent in 2018. That growth is 0.2 percentage point higher than the average annual rate of 0.8 percent from 1987 to 2018.

Safety and Health

Unionization

  • The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.

Work Stoppages

  • In the first 7 months of 2019, there have been 307,500 workers involved in major work stoppages that began this year. (Major work stoppages are strikes or lockouts that involve 1,000 or more workers and last one full shift or longer.) For all of 2018, there were 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages, the largest number since 1986, when about 533,100 workers were involved.
  • There have been 15 work stoppages beginning in 2019. For all of 2018, 20 work stoppages began during the year.

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 22 percent of employment in 2018. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
  • For 18 of the 30 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2016 and 2026, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry. Be sure to check out our updated employment projections, covering 2018 to 2028, that we will publish September 4!

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that! Want to learn more? Follow us on Twitter @BLS_gov.