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Census 2000 Brief: Employment Status: 2000

Written by:
Report Number C2KBR-18

Census 2000 found that 63.9 percent of the 217.2 million people aged 16 and over in the United States were in the labor force.1 Of the 138.8 million people in the labor force, 129.7 million were employed, 7.9 million were unemployed, and 1.2 million were in the Armed Forces. The civilian unemployment rate was 5.8 percent.2

Note that, in general, the estimates in this report will differ from the official labor force data collected in the Current Population Survey and released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Decennial censuses have included questions on employment status since 1930. Census 2000 collected information on employment status from people aged 15 and over; however, all published tabulations of employment-status data are restricted to the population aged 16 and over. Questions 21 and 25 on the Census 2000 forms asked people about their connection to the paid workforce in the week before they filled out the questionnaire (see Figure 1). Answers to these questions were used to measure labor force participation, the unemployment rate, and other indicators of the economic activity of the population.3

The battery of Census 2000 questions that collected employment status information differed slightly from the 1990 census questions. The new questions were developed in cooperation with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the Department of Labor. Highlights of the changes include the addition of the words “for either pay or profit” to the “work last week” item (question 21); the removal of the 1990 question “How many hours did you work last week?”; the division and expansion of the “temporary absence from a job or layoff” item into three separate questions (25a, 25b, and 25c); and the revision of the definition of “available” in the “availability to work” item (question 25e) from being able to “take a job” to being able to “start a job if offered one, or return to work if recalled.”

This report is part of a series that presents population and housing data collected by Census 2000. The report provides data on the employment status of people 16 and over and how employment status varies among regions, states, counties, and places with populations of 100,000 or more.4

1 The labor force includes all people classified in the civilian labor force (employed or unemployed) plus members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Employed people include civilians 16 and over who were either “at work” or were “with a job but not at work.” Unemployed civilians are those who did not have a job during the reference period, were actively looking for work, or waiting to be called back to a job from which they had been laid off, and were available to go to work.

2 This rate is defined as the number of unemployed people divided by the sum of employed plus unemployed people.

3 While both questions are used to determine a person’s employment status, they are not discussed individually within this report.

4 The text of this report discusses data for the United States, including the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico are shown in Table 1 and Figure 3.


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