The CPS is administered by the Census Bureau using a probability selected sample of about 60,000 occupied households. The fieldwork is conducted during the calendar week that includes the 19th of the month. The questions refer to activities during the prior week; that is, the week that includes the 12th of the month. Households from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are in the survey for 4 consecutive months, out for 8, and then return for another 4 months before leaving the sample permanently. This design ensures a high degree of continuity from one month to the next (as well as over the year). The 4-8-4 sampling scheme has the added benefit of allowing the constant replenishment of the sample without excessive burden to respondents.
The CPS questionnaire is a completely computerized document that is administered by Census Bureau field representatives across the country through both personal and telephone interviews. Additional telephone interviewing is conducted from the Census Bureau’s two centralized collection facilities in Jeffersonville, Indiana and Tucson, Arizona.
To be eligible to participate in the CPS, individuals must be 15 years of age or over and not in the Armed Forces. People in institutions, such as prisons, long-term care hospitals, and nursing homes are ineligible to be interviewed in the CPS. In general, the BLS publishes labor force data only for people aged 16 and over, since those under 16 are limited in their labor market activities by compulsory schooling and child labor laws. No upper age limit is used, and full-time students are treated the same as nonstudents. One person generally responds for all eligible members of the household. The person who responds is called the ‘‘reference person’’ and usually is the person who either owns or rents the housing unit. If the reference person is not knowledgeable about the employment status of the others in the household, attempts are made to contact those individuals directly.
In addition to the regular labor force questions, the CPS often includes supplemental questions on subjects of interest to labor market analysts. These include annual work activity and income, veteran status, school enrollment, contingent employment, worker displacement, and job tenure, among other topics. Because of the survey’s large sample size and broad population coverage, a wide range of sponsors use the CPS supplements to collect data on topics as diverse as expectation of family size, tobacco use, computer use, and voting patterns.