American Community Survey

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Why We Ask Questions About...
Employment Status

We ask questions about whether a person worked last week and, if the answer is no, why he or she was not working. For those who were not working, we also ask whether he or she plans to return to work, and when they last worked.

These data are used in planning and funding government programs that provide unemployment assistance and services. These data also help evaluate other government programs and policies to ensure they fairly and equitably serve the needs of all groups, as well as enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination in society.

Your privacy concerns

We use your confidential survey answers to create statistics like those in the results below and in the full tables that contain all the data—no one is able to figure out your survey answers from the statistics we produce. The Census Bureau is legally bound to strict confidentiality requirements. Individual records are not shared with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' answers with anyone—not the IRS, not the FBI, not the CIA, and not with any other government agency.

Questions as they appear on the form

We ask five questions about work to create a profile of the nation’s labor force.

Results from these questions

We compile the results from these questions to provide communities with important statistics to understand the labor force and ensure opportunity. You can see some of these published statistics here for the nation, states, and your community.

United States

View Results for a State

View Results for a County or City / Town in (↑ change state using menu above ↑)

Employment status data help communities:

Provide Employment Opportunities

Employers, federal agencies, and federal government contractors are interested in knowing whether programs designed to employ specific groups, such as people with disabilities or veterans, are succeeding (Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, Rehabilitation Act of 1973).

State and local agencies use these statistics to:

  • Identify labor surplus areas (areas with people available for hiring and training).
  • Plan workforce development programs, including job fairs and training programs.
  • Promote business opportunities.

Ensure Equal Opportunity

We want to know more about people who are employed or looking for work in combination with age, gender, race, Hispanic origin, disability status, veteran status, and other data, to help governments and communities enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination in employment. For example, labor force data are used to enforce nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies, private employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations (Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Understand Changes

Information on the characteristics of people who are working or looking for work is an important part of estimating changes in the economy. Labor force estimates are used in funding decisions; to ensure surveys are accurate, including surveys that provide official labor market estimates; and to understand change in other data (Wagner-Peyser Act and Workforce Investment Act).

Infographic: Women at Work

Women at Work

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year]

History of employment status questions

Labor force status questions originated with the 1890 Census. It was transferred to the ACS in 2005 when it replaced the decennial census long form.

Get this information to go!

Selected information from this page can also be downloaded in PDF format.

Download—Why We Ask Questions About... Labor Force Status [PDF]

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