Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of information does the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program provide?

The LAUS program provides monthly and annual average estimates for labor force, employment, unemployment, and the unemployment rate for some 7,200 areas. The areas include census regions and divisions, states, metropolitan areas, metropolitan divisions, micropolitan areas, combined areas, small labor market areas, counties and county equivalents, cities with a population of 25,000 and over, and all cities and towns in New England regardless of population. These data can be found on the LA series in LABSTAT. For a more detailed description of areas, see Geographic Concepts.

For what time periods are data available?

The monthly series start in 1976 for census regions and divisions, all states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale Metropolitan Division, and New York city. Six newly modeled areas have historical series dating back to 1983:  Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL Metropolitan Division; Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH Metropolitan Statistical Area; Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI Metropolitan Statistical Area; Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL Metropolitan Division; New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA Metropolitan Statistical Area; and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA Metropolitan Division.

How are the labor force components (i.e., civilian labor force, employed, unemployed, and unemployment rate) defined?

The official concepts and definitions, as used in the Current Population Survey, follow. For a complete description, see Definitions of Labor Force Concepts (PDF 102K).

  • Civilian labor force. Included are all persons in the civilian noninstitutional population classified as either employed or unemployed. (See the definitions below).
  • Employed persons. These are all persons who, during the reference week (the week including the 12th day of the month), (a) did any work as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of their family, or (b) were not working but who had jobs from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job.
  • Unemployed persons. Included are all persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4 week-period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.
  • Unemployment rate. The ratio of unemployed to the civilian labor force expressed as a percent [i.e., 100 times (unemployed/labor force)].

What are metropolitan areas?

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines metropolitan and micropolitan areas. Currently defined metropolitan and micropolitan areas are based on the application of the 2000 standards (which appeared in the Federal Register, December 27, 2000, pages 82228-82238) to data from the 2000 Census, as updated using more recent population estimates from the Census Bureau. The metropolitan and micropolitan area definitions currently used by the LAUS program reflect the contents of OMB Bulletin No. 04-03, dated February 18, 2004.

Metropolitan and micropolitan areas consist of one or more counties. OMB defined a conceptually similar set of areas in New England using cities and towns as the geographic building blocks, referred to as New England City and Town Areas (NECTAs). The LAUS program uses these NECTAs as an alternative to the county-based metropolitan and micropolitan areas in the six New England states. As of February 18, 2004, there are 367 metropolitan areas and 582 micropolitan areas in the United States. In addition, there are 8 metropolitan areas and 5 micropolitan areas in Puerto Rico.

The 2000 standards provided for two additional types of statistical areas. Eleven of the most populous metropolitan areas in the United States are composed of 34 metropolitan divisions, which are essentially separately identifiable employment centers within a metropolitan area. Finally, if specified criteria were met, adjacent metropolitan and micropolitan areas, in various combinations, are grouped to form a new set of areas called combined areas. The areas that combine retain their own designations as metropolitan or micropolitan areas within the larger combined area. As of February 18, 2004, there are 126 combined areas in the United States and 3 in Puerto Rico.

For more information on the statistical areas defined by OMB, see New Statistical Area Designations Based on Census 2000.

What are labor market areas (LMAs)?

A general definition for a labor market area is an economically integrated area within which individuals can reside and find employment within a reasonable distance or can readily change jobs without changing their place of residence. LMAs include both the metropolitan and micropolitan areas defined by the Office of Management and Budget and the small labor market areas defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. LMAs are redesignated after each decennial census, and currently there are about 2,360 LMAs. They exhaust the geography of the United States and Puerto Rico, with the exceptions of Kalawao County, Hawaii, and 18 isolated cities and towns in New England. For a detailed description of what constitutes a small LMA and the criteria used for their designation, see Small labor Market Areas. For individual LMA definitions (metropolitan, micropolitan, and small LMAs, plus metropolitan divisions), refer to Labor Market Areas, 2005 (PDF 848K).

What is the publication schedule for LAUS program news releases?

The Regional and State Employment and Unemployment news release is generally issued about the third Friday of the month following the reference month. The Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment news release is generally issued 12 days later (on the Wednesday before the first Friday of the following month). Data for all other areas are released one week after that. See Schedule of Data Release Dates for Coming Months.

Why aren't data for all areas (the Nation, states, and substate areas) available at the same time?

The timing of data availability is controlled by the length of time required to produce and validate estimates. Data for the Nation, which come directly from the Current Population Survey, are available earliest; data for states and census regions and divisions are available next, generally about two weeks later; data for metropolitan areas and divisions are available after about another week and a half; and data for micropolitan areas, combined areas, counties, cities, and New England towns are available last, a week after the metropolitan area and division release. For the release dates for various type of data, see Schedule of Data Release Dates for Coming Months.

Why are the labor force estimates for areas and cities different between the LA (Local Area) and GP (Geographic Profile) series?

The data in the LA series are the official data used for Federal fund allocations and are based on a statistical methodology that uses data from a variety of sources. Data for approximately 7,200 geographic areas are developed in this manner and included in this database, including for all counties and cities of population 25,000 or more, thus meeting the data needs of other Federal programs. The methodology is consistent across states, so that areas can be compared to one another. Data are available on a monthly and annual basis, with preliminary estimates published within two months of the reference period. No demographic data are available from this series.

The Geographic Profile (GP) series provides limited data for only 50 large metropolitan areas, as defined for the 1990 Census, and 17 large cities. These annual average data come directly from the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS sample is not large enough to provide reliable data for all areas. In fact, many areas contain no sample whatsoever. Nor is the reliability of estimates from the CPS consistent across the areas for which data are published. Despite these limitations, the CPS-based estimates are the only current source of information on demographic and detailed economic characteristics for these metropolitan areas and cities.

What is the difference between job losers and the unemployed?

People who have lost a job make up a large portion of those classified as unemployed each month. There are also persons who have voluntarily left jobs, persons who have newly entered or re-entered the labor force but not yet found a job, and persons who have recently completed temporary jobs and are looking for employment. For a more detailed description of these labor force concepts and how these labor force classifications are defined, see Definitions of Labor Force Concepts (PDF 102K).

What is the Current Population Survey (CPS)?

The CPS is a monthly sample survey of approximately 60,000 households (nationally) conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is the source of much key labor market data, including the U.S. unemployment rate. For more information see Current Population Survey.

What are "household" and "establishment" data, and how do they differ?

"Household" data, as from the Current Population Survey (CPS), pertain to individuals and relate to where they reside. "Establishment" data, such as those from the Current Employment Statistics survey of businesses, pertain to jobs (persons on payrolls) and where those jobs are located. The data developed through the LAUS program are based on the household concept of the CPS. For information on these surveys and how they differ, see Household vs. Establishment Series.

What are some of the Administrative Uses of LAUS data?

Estimates of unemployment and the unemployment rate are used by Federal programs that allocate more than $43 billion in funds and to determine the eligibility of an area for benefits in various other programs. These include the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, Food Stamp limitation waivers, the Public Works Program, the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and Labor Surplus Area designation program. Under most programs, unemployment data are used to determine the distribution of funds to be allocated to each eligible area. In the case of the Food Stamp waivers and Labor Surplus Area designations, the data are used in the determination of area eligibility for benefits. See Administrative Uses of Local Area Unemployment Statistics for the full list of Federal uses.

What is seasonal adjustment?

Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, the opening and closing of schools, and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series. This permits easier observation and analysis of cyclical, trend, and other nonseasonal movements in the data. By eliminating seasonal fluctuations, the series becomes smoother and it is easier to compare data from month to month. In the LAUS program, data for census regions, census divisions, states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, New York city, and the 8 substate areas listed in Question 2 above are seasonally adjusted. For a more complete description of seasonal adjustment and the methodology used to estimate seasonal adjustment factors, see Seasonal Adjustment.

What methodology is used to produce the various estimates published by the LAUS program?

There are a number of different methods used to produce the estimates. The principal ones are: (1) a signal-plus-noise time-series model for states, the District of Columbia, and the 8 substate areas listed in Question 2 above; (2) a building block approach referred to as the Handbook procedure for labor market areas; and (3) disaggregation procedures for many counties and virtually all cities. For a description of these procedures and their uses, see LAUS Estimation Methodology.

Why are some of the detailed data available at the national level not also available at the state, metropolitan area, county, and city level?

National data come from the Current Population Survey. The survey sample size is not large enough to provide all the data at a local, or even a state, level. National data are NOT the sum of local area estimates.

What is the "Handbook" method?

The Handbook method is a building-block approach using data from several sources—including the Current Population Survey, the Current Employment Statistics program, and unemployment insurance program—to produce labor force estimates at the substate level. Estimates for Labor Market Areas (LMAs), including both metropolitan and micropolitan areas and small LMAs, are produced using this methodology. For a description of the Handbook Method, see Estimates for Substate Labor Market Areas.

What are "population controls"?

The term "population controls" refers to population data developed from various independent sources, such as vital statistics on births, deaths, migration, school enrollment, persons living in group quarters, inmates in institutions, etc., which are used in Current Population Survey estimation procedures to independently adjust sample-based labor force levels. These are updated annually by the Bureau of the Census and provided to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The impact on LAUS estimates of new population controls is to proportionately raise or lower the estimates of labor force levels (with unemployment rates, labor force participation rates, and employment/population ratios being unaffected) for census regions and divisions, the states and the District of Columbia, and the eight substate areas mentioned above. Revisions are typically made to the three most recent years of data. For a description of methodology used to develop independent population estimates, see the publication, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Population Estimates and Projections, P-25-1106.

What does the term "benchmarked" mean?

Under real-time benchmarking, a tiered approach to estimation is used. Model-based estimates are developed for the nine census divisions that geographically exhaust the Nation using univariate signal-plus-noise models. The division models are similar to the state models, but do not use unemployment insurance claims or nonfarm payroll employment as variables. The division estimates are benchmarked to the national levels of employment and unemployment on a monthly basis. The benchmarked division model estimate is then used as the benchmark for the states within the division. The distribution of the monthly benchmark adjustment to the states is based on each state's monthly model estimate. In this manner, the monthly state employment and unemployment estimates will add to the national level. Substate estimates are then revised and forced to add to the new state estimates. In the past, this was done annually because the state data were benchmarked to the CPS annual average for each state. At the same time, annual revisions to the inputs and new population controls were also incorporated into the estimates. Under the new approach, benchmarking occurs monthly, while annual processing will continue to be done at the beginning of each calendar year on the previous year's estimates. As part of the process, any changes in the inputs, such as revision in the Current Employment Statistics-based employment figures or unemployment insurance claims counts, and updated historical relationships, are incorporated.

What does the term "model-based" mean, and what are "signal-plus-noise" models?

The term "model-based" refers to the fact that estimates are derived by a statistical model rather than direct sampling. The approach used to estimate employment and unemployment in the census divisions, the states and the District of Columbia, and the eight substate areas is based on a signal-plus-noise model. This model postulates that the observed Current Population Survey estimate consists of a true, but unobserved, labor force value (the signal) plus noise that reflects the error arising from taking a probability sample rather than a complete census of the population. The modeling process separates the two to produce an estimate of the signal. For a more complete description, see Estimates for States.

Whom should I contact if I have additional questions?

Contact the LAUS Information Staff by email, by telephone at (202) 691-6392, or by FAX at (202) 691-6459.


Last Modified Date: January 17, 2008