Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The CES Survey: Concepts and Scope
What is the establishment payroll survey?
The establishment payroll survey, known as the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, is based on a sample of 390,000 business establishments nationwide. The primary statistics derived from the survey are monthly estimates of employment, hours, and earnings for the Nation, States, and major metropolitan areas. Preliminary national estimates for a given reference month are typically published on the first Friday of the following month, in conjunction with data derived from a separate survey of households, the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is the source of statistics on the activities of the labor force, including unemployment and the Nation's unemployment rate.
What is the CES definition of employment?
Employment is the total number of persons on establishment payrolls employed full or part time who received pay for any part of the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month. Temporary and intermittent employees are included, as are any workers who are on paid sick leave, on paid holiday, or who work during only part of the specified pay period. A striking worker who only works a small portion of the survey period, and is paid, would be included as employed under the CES definitions. Persons on the payroll of more than one establishment are counted in each establishment. Data exclude proprietors, self-employed, unpaid family or volunteer workers, farm workers, and domestic workers. Persons on layoff the entire pay period, on leave without pay, on strike for the entire period or who have not yet reported for work are not counted as employed. Government employment covers only civilian workers.
With the release of NAICS-based estimates in June 2003, the scope and definition of Federal Government employment estimates changed due to a change in source data and estimation methods. The previous series was an end-of-month federal employee count produced by the Office of Personnel Management, and it excluded some workers, mostly employees who work in Department of Defense-owned establishments such as military base commissaries. Beginning in June 2003, the CES national series began to include these workers. Also, federal government employment is now estimated from a sample of federal establishments, is benchmarked annually to counts from unemployment insurance tax records, and reflects employee counts as of the pay period including the 12th of the month, consistent with other CES industry series. The historical time series for federal government employment was revised to reflect these changes.
Are part-time workers counted in your survey?
Yes, however, the establishment survey does not have a specific category for part-time workers. Since the survey captures counts of all employees on the payroll, part-time employees are part of the total. They are not counted separately. The Current Population Survey does have a separate tally for part-time workers.
Who is included in data for production or nonsupervisory workers?
The worker groups for which hours and earnings data are collected vary slightly by industry. In service-providing industries, these data are collected for nonsupervisory workers--employees who are not owners or who are not primarily employed to direct, supervise, or plan the work of others.
In goods-producing industries, the data are collected for production workers in natural resources and mining, and manufacturing, and construction workers in construction. In addition to the exclusion of owners and supervisory employees applied in service-providing industries, the production worker/construction worker categories exclude employees not directly involved in production.
How do reservists impact CES?
The BLS is unable to quantify the impact of reservists being called to active duty on CES employment figures. In concept, persons on active military duty for the entire survey reference period are not included on employer payrolls. Some reservists hold jobs not covered by the payroll survey--such as the self employed or those in agriculture--and others may not hold jobs at all. Any reservist who worked at all for their regular employer during the survey reference period would have been counted on the employer's payroll. If reservists are replaced by new workers on an employer's payroll, there would be no net change in the number of jobs counted. If reservists are not replaced, a net decline in the employer's job count would result.
Are workers in Puerto Rico included in national CES estimates?
National CES employment estimates exclude workers in Puerto Rico. BLS cooperates with both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to collect data and publish employment estimates independent of national estimates. See the State and Area homepage.
Are undocumented immigrants counted in the surveys?
Neither the establishment nor household survey is designed to identify the legal status of workers. Thus, while it is likely that both surveys include at least some undocumented immigrants, it is not possible to determine how many are counted in either survey. The household survey does include questions about whether respondents were born outside the United States. Data from these questions show that foreign-born workers accounted for about 15 percent of the labor force in 2006 and about 47 percent of the net increase in the labor force from 2000 to 2006.
Why are there two monthly measures of employment?
The household survey and establishment survey both produce sample-based estimates of employment and both have strengths and limitations. The establishment survey employment series has a smaller margin of error on the measurement of month-to-month change than the household survey because of its much larger sample size. An over-the-month employment change of 104,000 is statistically significant in the establishment survey, while the threshold for a statistically significant change in the household survey is about 390,000. However, the household survey has a more expansive scope than the establishment survey because it includes the self-employed, unpaid family workers, agricultural workers, and private household workers, who are excluded by the establishment survey. The household survey also provides estimates of employment for demographic groups.
Does the establishment survey sample include small firms?
Yes; about 40 percent of the establishment survey sample is comprised of business establishments with fewer than 20 employees. The establishment survey sample is designed to maximize the reliability of the total nonfarm employment estimate; firms from all size classes and industries are appropriately sampled to achieve that goal.
Has the establishment survey understated employment growth because it excludes the self-employed?
While the establishment survey excludes the self-employed, the household survey provides monthly estimates of unincorporated self-employment. These estimates have shown no substantial growth in recent years.
Methodology, Revisions, and Technical Information
Why does the establishment survey have revisions?
The establishment survey revises published estimates to improve its data series by incorporating additional information that was not available at the time of the initial publication of the estimates. The establishment survey revises its initial monthly estimates twice, in the immediately succeeding 2 months, to incorporate additional sample receipts from respondents in the survey. For more information on the monthly revisions, please visit www.bls.gov/ces/cesrevinfo.htm. On an annual basis, the establishment survey incorporates a benchmark revision that re-anchors estimates to nearly complete employment counts available from unemployment insurance tax records. The benchmark helps to control for sampling and modeling error in the estimates. For more information on the annual benchmark revision, please visit www.bls.gov/web/cesbmart.htm.
All estimates, including annual averages, are subject to two revisions in connection with benchmarking, and seasonally adjusted series may be revised slightly three additional times, in conjunction with reseasonal adjustment. See the question on benchmarking in this section for further discussion.
On what basis are the industries in the Current Employment Statistics survey classified?
A sample establishment in the CES survey is an economic unit, such as a factory, which produces goods or services. It is generally at a single location and engaged predominantly in one type of economic activity. Establishments reporting on the schedule (form BLS 790) are classified into industries based on their principal product or activity. Ideally, the principal good or service should be determined by its relative share of current production costs and capital investment at the establishment. In practice, however, it is often necessary to use other variables such as revenue, shipments, or employment as proxies for measuring significance. Industry classification, based on the 2007 North American Industry Classification System, is determined from a supplement to the quarterly unemployment insurance tax reports filed by each employer. NAICS was developed through a cooperative effort between the United States, Mexico and Canada. NAICS is based on a production-oriented concept in which industries with similar production processes are classified together.
How are the data in the CES survey collected?
Each month State agencies cooperate with BLS, as well as BLS Data Collection Centers, to collect data on employment, hours, and earnings from a sample of about 160,000 businesses and government agencies, which cover approximately 390,000 individual worksites drawn from a sampling frame of over 8 million Unemployment Insurance tax accounts. The active CES sample includes approximately one-third of all nonfarm payroll workers. Sample respondents extract the requested data from their payroll records, which must be maintained for a variety of tax and accounting purposes. Data are collected by telephone, touch-tone self response, computer-assisted interviews, fax technology, voice recognition, and mail. The use of electronic media results in more rapid response times and higher response rates. States also electronically transmit both sample data and geographic estimates to BLS in Washington to speed the estimation and publication processes.
Data defined on the 790 form are submitted each month by the respondent and edited by the State agency. Data submitted on the schedule are used in developing statewide and major metropolitan area estimates. The State also transmits sample data and State-developed geographic estimates to Washington. All States' samples are combined to form a collective sample for developing national industry estimates. Statewide samples range from nearly 30,000 sample units in California to about 1,000 units in smaller states. It should be noted that state estimation procedures are designed to produce accurate data for each individual state. BLS independently develops the national employment series and does not force state estimates to sum to national totals nor vice versa. Because each state series is subject to larger sampling and nonsampling errors than the national series, summing them cumulates individual state level errors and can cause significant distortions at an aggregate level. Due to these statistical limitations, BLS does not compile a "sum of states" employment series and cautions users that such a series is subject to a relatively large and volatile error structure.
What is a seasonally adjusted estimate?
Seasonal adjustment removes the change in employment that is due to normal seasonal hiring or layoffs, thus leaving an over-the-month change that reflects only employment changes due to trend and irregular movements. Seasonally adjusted estimates of employment and other series are generated using the X-12 ARIMA program developed by the United States Census Bureau. This program adjusts estimates for fluctuations that occur on a regular basis within a year. For example, employment in retail trade rises prior to the Christmas holiday season and then falls following the holiday. Annual averages, however, are computed using data that are not seasonally adjusted.
Do hours and earnings statistics include overtime?
Yes, employers report payroll and hours including overtime. Overtime hours are published for manufacturing industries only.
How are the estimates organized?
The data are first separated by ownership--private and public. The public ownership is further divided into federal, state, and local. Each of these is then organized by industry (NAICS codes). Thus, for example, employment in all hospitals would be the sum of the estimates for private, federal, state, and local hospitals. Federal government estimates also are published for the Department of Defense, the U.S. Postal Service, ship building, hospitals, and other federal government.
How can I get employment data for all private and public hospitals or schools?
See above answer.
What is a benchmark?
The benchmark adjustment, a standard part of the payroll survey estimation process, is a once-a-year re-anchoring of the sample-based employment estimates to full population counts available principally through unemployment insurance (UI) tax records filed by employers with State Employment Security Agencies. By early October of each year, BLS completes preliminary tabulations of these universe counts for the first quarter of the year and routinely shares that information with the public at the time of the issuance of the September Employment Situation news release.
What is the UI universe count?
The Bureau's UI universe count is a quarterly tabulation, from administrative records, of the number of employees covered by unemployment insurance (UI) laws. UI universe counts, available on a lagged basis, contain individual employer records for over 8 million establishments and cover nearly 97 percent of total nonfarm employment; they thus provide a benchmark for the sample-based estimates. For the small segment of the population not covered by UI, BLS develops employment benchmarks from several alternative sources.
Why are the payroll survey estimates benchmarked to UI universe counts?
The CES survey, like many other surveys, establishes benchmarks on a periodic basis in order to adjust its sample-based estimates to complete population counts available from administrative records.
Because of their much smaller size, sample surveys offer an ability to produce very timely estimates along with a greater ability to control the data quality of individual reports. There is a need, however, to recalibrate sample estimates periodically against full population counts. The use of a population count, or benchmark, allows a sample survey to adjust the results of estimation processes for new birth units in the population frame, and to adjust for sampling and other non-sampling errors.
How does the benchmark revision affect the employment data for months prior to the benchmark month?
Following standard BLS methodology, the March UI-based benchmark employment level replaces the March sample-based employment estimate, and then the difference between the benchmark level and the sample-based estimate is wedged back to the previous benchmark level. For example, the benchmark revision that was released in February 2007 replaced the March 2006 estimate with the benchmark level, increasing the employment level for that month by 752,000. To wedge this adjustment over the prior year, 1/12 of the difference was added to April 2005, 2/12s to May and so forth, through February 2006 which received 11/12s of the difference.
How does the benchmark revision affect the employment data for months subsequent to the benchmark month?
Estimates for the period after the benchmark month (the post-benchmark period) are calculated for each month based on the new benchmark level, new net birth/death figures, and the annual sample update, which is implemented in November following the benchmark month.
What are the causes of benchmark revisions?
In general, differences between universe counts and sample-based estimates result from both sampling and non-sampling error. Although sampling error is present in the payroll survey, as it is in all surveys, the CES sample is so large that sampling error is not usually an important factor in explaining the differences.
Nonsampling error arises in the survey estimates, and in the universe counts, from both the UI and the alternative sources used to establish the noncovered population benchmarks. Nonsampling error is a more significant cause of benchmark revisions. Sources of nonsampling error include coverage, response, and processing errors in both data series. Additionally, the survey is potentially subject to sample design and estimator biases.
What is the birth/death adjustment? Why is it used?
To derive a complete count of total nonfarm employment, a two-part estimator is required. First, a sample-based estimate of the over-the-month employment change is made using the CES sample, which represents about 390,000 business establishments. The sample is drawn from the population of all employers who have filed Unemployment Insurance tax returns. The sample does not include employers who have recently formed new businesses but who have not yet been added to the Unemployment Insurance tax files. Business births occur every month, and failure to include an estimate for these units would result in a consistent underestimation of employment totals, that is, a downward bias. Therefore, BLS utilizes a model-based technique to estimate for this part of the population.
In a dynamic economy, firms are continually opening and closing. These two occurrences offset each other to some extent. That is, firms that are born replace firms that die. CES uses this fact to account for a large proportion of the employment associated with business births. This is accomplished by excluding such business death units from the matched sample definition. Effectively, business deaths are not included in the sample-based link portion of the estimate, and the implicit imputation of their previous month’s employment is assumed to offset a portion of the employment associated with births.
There is an operational advantage associated with this approach as well. Most firms will not report that they have gone out of business; rather, they simply cease reporting and are excluded from the link, as are all other nonrespondents. As a result, extensive follow-up with monthly nonrespondents to determine whether a company is out-of-business or simply did not respond is not required.
Employment associated with business births will not exactly equal that associated with business deaths. The amount by which it differs varies by month and by industry. As a result, the residual component of the birth/death offset must be accounted for by using a model-based approach.
How are the birth/death adjustment amounts calculated?
During the net birth/death modeling process, simulated monthly probability estimates containing continuous and imputed employment over a 5-year period are created and compared with population employment levels that contain actual business births and deaths along with the continuous units. Moving from a simulated benchmark, the differences between the series across time represent a cumulative error component. Those residuals are converted to month-to-month differences and are used as input series to the modeling process.
Models are fit using X-12 ARIMA. Outliers, level shifts, and temporary ramps are automatically identified. Five models are tested, and the model exhibiting the lowest average forecast error is selected for each series.
How do strikes affect CES estimates?
Anyone paid for working any portion of the reference pay period (pay period that includes the 12th of the month) is counted as employed. Therefore, to be counted as not employed for purposes of the CES survey, a person on strike or strike-related layoff must not receive pay for the entire reference pay period.
Average Weekly Hours (AWH) and Average Hourly Earnings (AHE)
These are hours for which production workers are paid for work or on paid leave for the reference pay period (including paid vacation, holidays, sick leave or other paid leave).
When strikers or laid off employees work part but not all of the reference pay period, then they are counted as employed according to the CES survey but with reduced hours. The magnitude of the reduction on average weekly hours depends on the proportion of workers in the industry’s sample with reduced hours and the number of hours they worked.
Workers who are on strike or layoff for the entire reference pay period do not have any effect on the average weekly hours estimate unless their normal hours differ significantly from the average for the industry. Similarly, average hourly earnings estimates will be little affected unless the normal hourly earnings of those on strike or layoff differ significantly from the average for the industry.
Note: For confidentiality reasons, CES staff cannot provide company-specific information, including dates or workers involved in strike/layoffs, other than what is already publicly available at the time of the strike. Contact the company or news sources for more specific information.
Does the establishment survey account for employment from new businesses?
Yes; monthly establishment survey estimates include an adjustment to account for the net employment change generated by business births and deaths. The adjustment comes from an econometric model that forecasts the monthly net jobs impact of business births and deaths based on the actual past values of the net impact that can be observed with a lag from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. The establishment survey uses modeling rather than sampling for this purpose because the survey is not immediately able to bring new businesses into the sample. There is an unavoidable lag between the birth of a new firm and its appearance on the sampling frame and availability for selection. BLS adds new businesses to the survey twice a year.
Data Availability and Accessibility
What types of data can one get from the CES survey?
The establishment survey produces nonfarm payroll estimates for: all employees, production workers, average weekly hours, average hourly earnings (constant dollar and current dollar), average weekly earnings, average overtime, index of aggregate hours and payrolls, and diffusion indexes. All data are available not seasonally adjusted, and some data are available seasonally adjusted.
What kinds of hours and earnings data are available?
National estimates of average weekly hours and average hourly earnings are made for the private sector, with detail for about 850 industries as well as for overtime hours in manufacturing.
Hours and earnings are derived from reports of gross payrolls and corresponding paid hours for production workers, construction workers, or nonsupervisory workers in the service sector. The payroll for workers covered by the CES survey is reported before deductions of any kind, e.g. for old-age and unemployment insurance, withholding tax, union dues or retirement plans. Included in the payroll reports is pay for overtime, vacations, holidays and sick leave paid directly by the firm. Bonuses, commissions, and other types of non-wage cash payments are excluded unless they are earned and paid regularly (at least once a month). Employee benefits paid by the employer, as well as payments in kind, are excluded.
Total hours during the pay period include all hours worked (including overtime hours), and hours paid for holidays, vacations, and sick leave. Total hours differ from the concept of scheduled hours worked. The average weekly hours reflects effects of numerous factors such as unpaid absenteeism, labor turnover, part-time work, strikes, and fluctuations in work schedules for economic reasons. Overtime hours in manufacturing are collected where overtime premiums were paid if hours were in excess of the number of straight time hours in a workday or workweek.
Can I get occupational data from the CES survey?
No. The CES survey does not collect occupational information. Occupational employment information is collected as part of the Current Population Survey and the Occupational Employment Statistics program.
How can I get the data and what does it cost?
Can I get a list of the companies in the sample?
No. Data are collected under a pledge of confidentiality. BLS can reveal neither the names of the employers that participate nor the specific data provided by any individual employers.
Are estimates available by establishment size?
No. The CES survey does not publish estimates by size of establishments. Some data by size of establishment are available from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program.
Do you have first-published numbers for past years on a database?
No. Our LABSTAT database has only the latest published statistics. We do not keep a separate database of first-published numbers. First published numbers can be obtained only from the monthly publication, Employment and Earnings (back issues kept at federal depository libraries).
How can I get published CES data?
CES data are published monthly in a new web-only publication, Employment and Earnings Online, which has replaced the monthly print publication Employment & Earnings (E&E).
The most current statistics are available through our online LABSTAT database.
Last Modified Date: March 28, 2008