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So What Does the BLS Employment Data Report Really Tell You?

At the beginning of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases an employment data report for the previous month that announces the total number of employed and unemployed people in the U.S., along with a variety of supporting statistics. For many, the employment statistics within that report could have been written in a foreign language – one that contains a completely different alphabet. That is how complicated they are to understand.

Think about it. Can you define – without the use of Google – “civilian labor force participation rate,” or “civilian noninstitutional population?” Do you what it means when a statistic is “seasonally adjusted?”

There is a wealth of information in this report, but if you depend on media outlets to synthesize the report and provide you with the highlights, you are not getting the breadth and depth of information you need for your business or industry.

Therefore, Snelling is providing this “cheat sheet” to help you better understand key terms found in this monthly employment report. Our goal? To get you information you can actually use.

The Basis of the BLS Employment Data Report

To create this report, the Census Bureau conducts (for the BLS) the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment. The bureau interviews about 60,000 households (from over 2,000 geographic areas) to collect the statistically representative sample needed to provide accurate employment figures for the entire nation.

Important BLS Employment Statistic Terms

  • Labor force. The sum of the employed and unemployed. People who are neither “employed” nor “unemployed” are not considered part of the labor force (i.e. stay-at-home parents, retired people, or those who have dropped out of the job market). 
  • Civilian labor force (or civilian noninstitutional population). Everyone in the economy – 16 years or older – who are neither institutionalized (in penal, mental or retirement facilities) nor active duty military.  This number consists of two distinct sectors – those who are employed, or those who are unemployed and actively seeking employment. And it is used to calculate the unemployment rate and the labor force participation rate (see below).
  • Employed. People with jobs. Specifically, people are considered “employed” if they did any work at all (full-time, part-time, or temporary) for pay or profit during the CPS survey reference week.
  • Unemployed. People who do not have a job AND are actively looking (i.e. interviewing or contacting employers) for a job AND are currently available for work, during the CPS survey reference week.  (NOTE: The only exception would be a person who has been laid off and is expecting a recall).
  • National unemployment rate. This is the most widely reported statistic and represents the number of unemployed people as a percentage of the labor force.
  • Labor force participation rate. The active portion of the economy’s labor force. In other words, it is the percentage of the civilian labor force that’s either working or actively seeking work.
  • Nonfarm payroll. This represents the payroll data for the majority of U.S. organizations (accounting for about 80% of employees), including goods, construction, and manufacturing companies. It excludes government employees, nonprofit employees, individuals who work within a private household, and farm employees.
  • Seasonal adjustments. Total employment and unemployment are higher during some parts of the year than in others. These variations make it difficult to tell whether changes are due to “normal” seasonal patterns or true economic changes. In order to deal with this problem, the government applies a statistical procedure (known as the seasonal adjustment) to workforce data in order to eliminate the effects of regular seasonal fluctuations.
  • CPS survey reference week. The calendar week that includes the 12th day of the month.  This was done to ensure greater consistency with the reference period used for other labor-related statistics.

Where can you find the unemployment stats you need?

Every month, Snelling looks through the BLS employment data report. We do this to understand the realities of the markets we work in. This is one of the ways our clients get the power of a national company with the regional know-how to find you the best-fit workers for your job openings. So don’t wait.  Locate your local Snelling office, and let’s get to work.

Want to learn more?

However if you want the “full scoop” on the monthly employment and economic statistics – complex jargon and all – follow the BLS “Employment Situation.”