Labor Force and Unemployment Data Technical Notes

Labor Force and Unemployment Data Technical Notes


The Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program is a federal-state cooperative effort in which monthly estimates of total employment and unemployment are prepared for approximately 6,800 areas across the United States. In New York State, LAUS data are available for the state, labor market regions, metropolitan areas, counties, and municipalities of at least 25,000. A complete list of the counties in each metropolitan area is available.

Statewide labor force statistics for all states, including New York, are calculated using a statistical model that takes into account: 1) data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly nationwide survey of households conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, that interviews about 3,000 households in the state; 2) data from the monthly nationwide survey of business establishments (including 18,000 in New York State), that BLS uses for its monthly nonfarm employment report; and 3) Unemployment Insurance claims data. Model estimates are then revised at the end of each year. In New York, the model produces estimates for New York City and the Balance of State; these areas are summed to get statewide data.

Per BLS procedures, current month labor force estimates are preliminary and are revised during the production of the following month’s preliminary estimates. Labor force data are subject to only one monthly revision. Monthly labor force statistics are subject to annual benchmark revisions in subsequent years. Revised (benchmarked) data for the prior year will be released with current year January estimates. Data for earlier years will also be benchmarked, but are released at a later date as benchmark processing progresses. Data for the preceding 3-5 years are subject to benchmark revision.


Labor force, employment and unemployment data are based on the same concepts and definitions as those used for the official national estimates obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a sample survey of households that is conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Definitions of these concepts follow:

Civilian Labor Force is the sum of civilian employment and civilian unemployment. These individuals are civilians (not members of the Armed Services) who are age 16 years or older, and are not in institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals, or nursing homes.

Civilian Employment includes all individuals who worked at least one hour for a wage or salary, or were self-employed, or were working at least 15 unpaid hours in a family business or on a family farm, during the week including the 12th of the month. Those who were on vacation, other kinds of leave, or involved in a labor dispute, were also counted as employed.

Civilian Unemployment includes those individuals who were not working but were able, available, and actively looking for work during the week including the 12th of the month. Individuals who were waiting to be recalled from a layoff, and individuals waiting to report to a new job within 30 days were also considered to be unemployed.

Unemployment Rate is the number of unemployed as a percentage of the labor force.

Labor Force Participation Rate - The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older that is working or actively looking for work. It is an important labor market measure because it represents the relative amount of labor resources available for the production of goods and services.

Employment to Population Ratio - The employment-population ratio represents the number of employed people as a percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population. In other words, it is the percentage of the population that is currently working.


There are a number of caveats to be aware of when using LAUS data. Below is a list of the most important ones:

  • The "Employment" which is shown under "Labor Force" is not directly comparable to the "Total Nonfarm" employment data from the Current Employment Series (CES) survey. See comparing sources of employment data for more information.
  • Sub-state labor force data are not seasonally adjusted. When doing a comparison with State and U.S. rates, it is important to use "Not Adjusted for Seasonality" labor force data for the State and the nation.
  • The unemployment rate usually gets the most attention, as it is a rough gauge of the area's labor market. It is best to consider the unemployment rate over a period of several months, or years. The employment and unemployment figures tend to vary from month to month for many reasons. Seasonal variation often may not reflect the economic conditions in all areas of the county. Seasonal factors may contribute to an area's high unemployment rate, but firms in some industries may have difficulty finding qualified employees. The labor market can vary greatly in different industries, in different occupations, and in different parts of the county.
  • The annual average figures, over time, tend to be a better gauge of the labor force trends within the area.
  • Month-to-month labor force data are a useful indicator to show the seasonal changes in the area, such as outdoor activities (e.g. construction), holiday hiring, school schedules, and agricultural patterns.

Changes in the method of estimating sub-state areas caused breaks in the continuity of the data series. These breaks occurred during the following periods: March 1988 to April 1988; October 1989 to November 1989; December 1989 to January 1990; December 1993 to January 1994; and December 1999 to January 2000. Data for the period preceding each break are not comparable to data for the period following each break because of the changes in methodology.