Official employment numbers come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the federal government’s Department of Labor, in cooperation with state departments of labor. The BLS has two different programs that measure monthly employment statistics:
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households nationwide that provides a comprehensive body of data on employment, unemployment, the labor force, and persons not in the labor force. It is a count of people, based on where they live. Monthly CPS data for Erie are available back to January 1990.
The Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey collects data from a sample of over 300,000 businesses each month and provides detailed data by industry category on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls. It is a count of jobs, based on where people work. Monthly CES data for Erie are available back to January 1950.
These two programs have different purposes and techniques, so they generate different measures of employment. In Erie, the CPS numbers have historically been a little greater than the CES numbers, although they have been close recently. While they have their differences, the two surveys show similar trends in employment over the longer term as the graph below demonstrates.
The establishment survey (CES) excludes unpaid family workers, domestic workers in private homes, proprietors who own their own businesses, and other self-employed persons—all of whom are covered by the household survey (CPS). Moreover, since the establishment survey is a count of jobs, if a person is employed by two or more establishments, s/he is counted at both, leading to higher totals. The household survey, on the other hand, is a count of people, and would count such a person only once. On the other hand, some people who are on unpaid leave for the entire period are counted as employed under the household survey but not in the establishment survey. Moreover, the CPS counts people based on where they live, while the CES counts them where they work. This can also lead to differences in the totals if there is substantial commuting across county lines. Both programs count both part- and full-time workers it their totals.
The household survey emphasizes the employment status of individuals and provides more detailed information on the demographic characteristics (sex, age, and race) of the labor force at the national level. The establishment survey provides limited information on personal characteristics of workers, but provides data by industry and also data on earnings and hours worked per week. The establishment and household surveys thus can be used together to complement each other.
Which data series should you use? That depends on the purpose for which you need the data. If you are looking for a count of the number of jobs in the area, or need data broken down by industry, or earlier than 1990, the CES is your database. If you want information on the demographic characteristics of the labor force, or you want to include only people who reside in the area, and only need data since 1990, the CPS is the one to use.
The above descriptions are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Handbook of Methods.”