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Frequently Asked Questions

How soon, after the survey is conducted each month, is the monthly microdata file available to the public?

The Basic CPS monthly microdata file is usually made available to the public 30-45 days after data collection is complete. Data files for supplemental information, such as School Enrollment and Food Security, are available anywhere from 6 to 18 months after data collection.

What variables allow me to match records from multiple CPS files?

To merge CPS files together, Linking CPS Data Files gives instructions.

What is the lowest geographical level available from CPS data files? Can I obtain estimates at the county level?

The CPS data provide reliable estimates at the state level, and for 12 of the largest metropolitan statistical areas. The sample size does not allow proper estimates to be obtained at the county level, and in fact, data are not available for most counties sampled due to confidentiality laws.

How can I obtain tabulated data from the CPS?

See the BLS/CPS home page and then click on CPS Tables.

How can I obtain historical data not provided through your website or through MDAT (pre-1989)?

Historical data files are available through several outside organizations. Contact these for assistance and support with obtaining data files.


What is the average response rate for the monthly CPS?

The CPS has one of the highest response rates among government household surveys, averaging around 75 percent. This rate is calculated after excluding those housing units that are either unoccupied (vacant, under construction) or occupied solely by persons not eligible for interview. These units make up approximately 18 percent of the total sample.

Is the CPS a voluntary or mandatory survey, and how is the survey administered?

About 59,000 households are selected for the CPS each month, and it is a voluntary survey.  Participation in the CPS is important because the answers represent thousands of other addresses and people.  The information is collected by interviewers using a computer-assisted survey instrument, through personal visit and telephone interviews.

CPS Modernization FAQs

If any, what differences will there be between Basic CPS collected in CAPI/CATI versus internet self-response?

Mode effects are generally unavoidable but through thorough testing we hope to identify any that occur and minimize them. We expect that some questions will need to be modified, provide more instructions, or be displayed differently. 

Will Field Interviewers be involved?

Field Interviewers are an integral part of review and testing. They will give guidance on how the current instrument is performing as well as be part of all tests. Part of the update of internet mode will be to review how the interviewers will be able to take advantage of a more manageable workload.

How will CPS supplements be affected? 

We do plan on continuing supplements. There may be an impact on some collection during this transition in order to allocate resources properly. Supplements will need to add the self-response mode as well.

What steps will be taken to ensure output from the old data collection solution is consistent with the new solution?

Extensive output testing is planned with review of production keying to the new solution. The new instrument will not be used until the agencies feel all changes have been made correctly. As an extra layer of care, the new solution will be phased in and kept separate from the production data used to make the monthly estimates. This allows a longer review in a production environment at no risk.

Will there be documentation of programming changes between the new and old solution?

Along the entire process, Census and BLS pledge to provide updates on developments, testing results, and programmatic decisions for full transparency. Upon final determinations, a full technical paper with will be released.

What risks are there to the modernization effort?

These ambitious changes will be challenging to execute within current funding allocations.  We will need to be flexible with plans based on funding received. We are working to try and minimize this as an issue, but we need to be aware that this will be a challenge over the next few years to manage and may lead to changes in scope or timing of the development. 

Page Last Revised - October 2, 2023
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