U.S. Department of Commerce

Labor Force Statistics






Differences Among the Employment and Unemployment Estimates from the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey, and the Local Area Unemployment Statistics Program

The American Community Survey (ACS) is the largest household survey in the United States. Like the decennial census long form it is designed to replace, the ACS provides single-year labor force estimates for geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more (this includes the nation, all states and the District of Columbia, all congressional districts, approximately 800 counties, and 500 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, among others) and 3-year estimates for geographic areas with a population of 20,000 or more (this includes the nation, all states and the District of Columbia, all congressional districts, approximately 1,800 counties, and 900 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, among others). For areas with a population less than 20,000, 5-year estimates will be available. The first 5-year estimates, based on ACS data collected from 2005 through 2009, will be released in 2010. All ACS estimates are updated annually. The Census Bureau introduced an improved sequence of labor force questions in the 2008 ACS questionnaire. Accordingly, we recommend using caution when making labor force data comparisons from 2008 or later with data from prior years. Additional information can also be found at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/laborfor/laborforce.html.

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a high quality source of information used to produce the official monthly estimates of employment, unemployment, and the unemployment rate for the nation and states. It uses a detailed questionnaire and its interviewing staff is trained to explain labor force concepts.

The Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program is a cooperative federal-state program that produces monthly and annual estimates of employment, unemployment, and the unemployment rate for over 7,000 geographic areas. The CPS data are a key input to the LAUS program methodology and have a significant impact on the estimates from the program.

The following chart summarizes the key differences between the ACS, CPS, and LAUS:

  American Community Survey Current Population Survey Local Area Unemployment Statistics Program
Principal Purpose Replace decennial census long form by providing annual and multi-year estimates of selected social, economic, and housing characteristics of the population for many geographic areas and subpopulations. Produce the official monthlyestimates of employment and unemployment for the United States, andannual-averageestimates for states and metropolitan areas. Produce other socioeconomic and demographic estimates for the United States, and estimates for states for selected characteristics and subpopulations. Produce monthly labor force and unemployment estimates for states and selected substate areas.
Geography Single-year estimates for geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more (this includes the nation, all states and the District of Columbia, all congressional districts, approximately 800 counties, and 500 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, among others) and 3-year estimates for geographic areas with a population of 20,000 or more (this includes the nation, all states and the District of Columbia, all congressional districts, approximately 1,800 counties, and 900 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas, among others). For areas with a population less than 20,000, 5-year estimates will be available. The first 5-year estimates, based on ACS data collected from 2005 through 2009, will be released in 2010. Monthly estimates for the nation; annual-average estimates for states and large metropolitan areas and cities. Monthly and annual estimates for over 7,000 geographic areas including all cities and counties of 25,000 or more, and all cities and towns in New England.
Sample Size About 3 million addresses per year. Data are collected from about one-twelfth of the sample each month. About 73,000 addresses per month. An address is in sample for 4 consecutive months, out for the following 8 months, back in for the next 4 months, and then retired from the sample. The LAUS program is not directly based on a sample. Estimates for states and large substate areas are produced from statistical models; other estimates are prepared through indirect estimation techniques.
Data Collection Method Mail, telephone, and personal-visit interviews for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. About half the responses are obtained by mail. The ACS is a mandatory survey. Telephone and personal-visit interviews for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CPS is a voluntary survey. The LAUS program does not conduct interviews.
Residency Status The ACS includes a person at the address where they are at the time of the survey if they have been there, or will be there, more than 2 months, whether or not they have a "usual residence elsewhere." The CPS sample unit's householder (one of the people in whose name the unit is rented or owned) must consider the unit to be their place of usual residence (where they spend most of the time during the year) to be counted as an occupied unit. If a family has more than one home, the interviewer has to determine if the sample unit is their usual residence. Data are collected for all people who usually live or stay at the address even if they are temporarily away for reasons such as travel, hospitalization, or school attendance. Same as the CPS.
Population Universe The ACS includes both the household and group quarters populations (that is, the residentpopulation). The group quarters population consists of the institutionalized (such as people in correctional institutions or nursing homes) and the noninstitutionalized (most of whom are in college dormitories). The weighting is controlled to population estimates as of July 1 (e.g., July 1, 2003 for the 2003 ACS). The CPS includes the civilian noninstitutionalizedpopulation. This universe includes civilians in households, people in noninstitutional group quarters (other than military barracks) and military in households living off post or with their families on post (as long as at least one household member is a civilian adult). The universe excludes other military in households and in group quarters (barracks), and people living in institutions. The weighting is controlled to population estimates as of the first day of the month in which the data are collected (e.g., July 1, 2003 for the July 2003 CPS data). Same as the CPS.
Time Period Covered Employment status refers to the full calendar week prior to the week when the respondent answers the questions. Employment status for a given month refers to the calendar week including the 12th day of the month. Same as the CPS.
Length and Detail of Questions The ACS uses a series of seven questions to classify an individual's employment status; these questions ask about work status, layoff, job search, and availability for work. The CPS uses a series of 16 questions to classify an individual's employment status; it asks about self-employment, job tenure, work status, unpaid family work, hours worked, layoff, active and passive methods of job search, and availability for work. The LAUS program does not conduct interviews, but it uses the same concepts as the CPS and relies on the data from the CPS (among other data sources).


Contact the Demographic Call Center Staff at 301-763-2422 or 1-866-758-1060 (toll free) or visit ask.census.gov for further information on Labor Force Data.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division