Program Description

In brief, The Current Employment Statistics (CES) Survey is a monthly survey of business establishments which provides estimates of employment, hours, and earnings data by industry for the nation as a whole, all States, and most major metropolitan areas since 1939. This section focuses on the State and Area data. The CES survey is a Federal-State cooperative endeavor in which State employment security agencies prepare the data using concepts, definitions, and technical procedures prescribed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Technical Note on CES Employment

Definitions. Employment data refer to persons on establishment payrolls who receive pay for any part of the pay period which includes the 12th of the month. Persons are counted at their place of work rather than at their place of residence; those appearing on more than one payroll are counted on each payroll. Establishments are classified in an industry on the basis of their principal product or activity in accordance with the most recent North American Industry Classification System Manual.

Method of estimation. The employment data are estimated using a “link relative” technique in which a ratio (link relative) of current-month employment to that of the previous month is computed from a sample of establishments reporting for both months. The estimates of employment for the current month are obtained by multiplying the estimates for the previous month by these ratios.

Annual revisions. Employment estimates are adjusted annually to a complete count of jobs, called benchmarks, derived principally from tax reports which are submitted by employers who are covered under state unemployment insurance (UI) laws. The benchmark information is used to adjust the monthly estimates between the new benchmark and the preceding one and also to establish the level of employment for the new benchmark month. Thus, the benchmarking process establishes the level of employment, and the sample is used to measure the month-to-month changes in the level for the subsequent months.

Seasonal adjustment. Seasonally adjusted payroll employment totals for states are computed by aggregating independently adjusted series for supersectors. Revisions of historical data for the most recent 5 years are made once a year, coincident with annual benchmark adjustments.

Caution on aggregating state data. State estimation procedures are designed to produce accurate data for each individual state. BLS independently develops a national employment series; state estimates are not forced 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.

Reliability of the estimates

All estimates from a sample survey are subject to sampling and other types of errors. Sampling error is a measure of sampling variability—that is, variation that occurs by chance because a sample rather than the entire population is surveyed. Survey data are also subject to nonsampling errors, such as those which can be introduced into the data collection and processing operations. Estimates not directly derived from sample surveys are subject to additional errors resulting from the special estimation processes used. The sums of individual items may not always equal the totals shown in the same tables because of rounding.

Employment estimates. Standard errors associated with 1-, 3-, and 12-month changes in employment for Statewide supersectors and for total nonfarm at the MSA level can be found at www.bls.gov/sae/790stderr.htm. Information on recent benchmark revisions for states is available upon request.

Additional Information. More complete information on the technical procedures used to develop these estimates and additional data appear in the BLS Handbook of Methods, Chapter 2 and Employment and Earnings, which is available by subscription for $53.00 a year from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402 (telephone 202-783-3238). Estimates of labor force, employment, and unemployment estimates for all states, metropolitan areas, labor market areas, counties, cities with a population of 25,000 or more, and other areas used in the administration of various Federal economic assistance programs are provided in the report, Unemployment in States and Local Areas, which is available monthly in microfiche form by subscription from the U.S. Government Printing Office for $23.00 a year. The order number for a subscription is 029-001-81003-2. Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: 202-691-5200; The Federal Relay Service: 1-800-877-8339.


Data Uses

CES estimates are among the earliest economic information available to analyze current economic conditions. Because of this, CES estimates are heavily used in both the private and public sector. Below is a short list of some of the uses for CES estimates:

Private Sector

  • To guide decisions on plant location, sales, and purchases;
  • To compare your business and the industry or economy as a whole;
  • To negotiate labor contracts based upon industry or area hourly earnings and weekly hours series;
  • To determine the employment base of States and areas for bond ratings;
  • To detect and plan for swings in the business cycle using the average weekly hours series;

Public Sector

  • To evaluate the economic health of State and areas;
  • To guide monetary policy decisions;
  • To assess the growth of industries;
  • To forecast tax revenue for States and areas;
  • To measure employment, hours, and earnings as a means of determining growth in the economy;


Related Research

Shipp, Kenneth W. and David M. Talan, Geographic Estimates from the Current Employment Statistics Survey, 41st Regional Science Association International Meetings, Niagara Falls, Canada, November 1994.

Scott, Stuart, George Stamas, Thomas J. Sullivan, and Paul Chester,

Seasonal Adjustment of Hybrid Economic Time Series, American Statistical Association, Toronto, Canada, August 1994.


Metropolitan Area Concepts and Standards

The accompanying lists present the titles and components of official metropolitan areas (MAs). The U.S. Office of Management and Budget defines MAs according to published standards that are applied to

Census Bureau data. The first list concerns areas designated by the OMB as metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and metropolitan divisions (MDs). A second list presents information for metropolitan New England city and town areas and divisions (metropolitan NECTAs and NECTA divisions, respectively).

The general concept of an MA is that of a core area containing a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core. Currently defined MAs are based on application of 2000 standards (which appeared in the Federal Register on December 27, 2000) to 2000 decennial census data. These MA definitions were announced by OMB effective June 6, 2003.

Standard definitions of metropolitan areas were first issued in 1949 by the then Bureau of the Budget (predecessor of OMB), under the designation “standard metropolitan area” (SMA). The term was changed to “standard metropolitan statistical area” (SMSA) in 1959, and to “metropolitan statistical area” (MSA) in 1983. The term “metropolitan area” (MA) was adopted in 1990 and referred collectively to metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), consolidated metropolitan statistical areas (CMSAs), and primary metropolitan statistical areas (PMSAs). The term “core based statistical area” (CBSA) became effective in 2000 and refers collectively to metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. (Note: The CES program does not produce estimates for micropolitan statistical areas.)

The standards for defining metropolitan areas were modified in 1958, 1971, 1975, 1980, 1990, and 2000.

Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas. The current standards provide that each CBSA must include at least one urban area of 10,000 or more population. Each metropolitan statistical area must have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more inhabitants. Each micropolitan statistical area must have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 population.

Under the standards, the county (or counties) in which at least 50 percent of the population resides within urban areas of 10,000 or more population, or that contain at least 5,000 people residing within a single urban area of 10,000 or more population, is identified as a “central county” (counties). Additional “outlying counties” are included in the CBSA if they meet specified requirements of commuting to or from the central counties. Counties or equivalent entities form the geographic “building blocks” for metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. In New England, the CBSAs are defined in terms of cities and towns rather than counties.

If specified criteria are met, a metropolitan statistical area containing a single core with a population of 2.5 million or more may be subdivided to form smaller groupings of counties referred to as “metropolitan divisions.”

As of June 6, 2000, there are 362 metropolitan statistical areas and 560 micropolitan statistical areas in the United States. In addition, there are 8 metropolitan statistical areas and 5 micropolitan statistical areas in Puerto Rico.

Principal Cities and Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Titles. The largest city in each metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area is designated a “principal city.” Additional cities qualify if specified requirements are met concerning population size and employment. The title of each metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area consists of the names of up to three of its principal cities and the name of each state into which the metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area extends. Titles of metropolitan divisions also typically are based on principal city names but in certain cases consist of county names.

Defining New England City and Town Areas. In view of the importance of cities and towns in New England, the 2000 standards also provide for a set of geographic areas that are defined using cities and towns in the six New England states. The New England city and town areas (NECTAs) are defined using the same criteria as metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas and are identified as either metropolitan or micropolitan, based, respectively, on the presence of either an urbanized area of 50,000 or more population or an urban cluster of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 population. If the specified criteria are met, a NECTA containing a single core with a population of at least 2.5 million may be subdivided to form smaller groupings of cities and towns referred to as New England city and town area (NECTA) divisions.

A 2000 census list, PHC-T-29, showing 2000 and 1990 populations for current CBSAs and their component counties or New England subcounty areas is available online at the Census Bureau website, or a hard copy can be obtained through the Population Distribution Branch at (301) 763-2419. A June 2004 General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the 2000 Metropolitan Statistical Area standards and their impact on selected Federal programs is available online at www.gao.gov/new.items/d04758.pdf . (Note: you need Adobe Acrobat Reader® to view this document. It can be downloaded for free at the Adobe® website.) Also available on the Census Bureau's website is a wall map for the 2003 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas.

Changes in Definitions over Time. Changes in the definitions of these statistical areas since the 1950 census have consisted chiefly of:

  • the recognition of new areas as they reached the minimum required city or urbanized area population, and
  • the addition of counties (or cities and towns in New England) to existing areas as new decennial census data showed them to qualify.

In some instances, formerly separate areas have been merged, components of an area have been transferred from one area to another, or components have been dropped from an area. The large majority of changes have taken place on the basis of decennial census data. However, Census Bureau data serve as the basis for intercensal updates in specified circumstances.

Because of these historical changes in geographic definitions, users must be cautious in comparing data for these statistical areas from different dates. For some purposes, comparisons of data for areas as defined at given dates may be appropriate; for other purposes, it may be preferable to maintain consistent area definitions. Historical metropolitan area definitions are available for 1999, 1993, 1990, 1983, 1981, 1973, 1970, 1963, 1960, and 1950.



Last Modified Date: June 07, 2007