What You Need to Know About the Employment Report

How the Employment Report influences Wall Street and the economy

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases the Employment Situation Summary, better known as the employment, or jobs report, at 8:30 a.m. ET on the first Friday of every month. The report is based on surveys of households and employers. It estimates the number of people on payrolls in the U.S. economy, the average number of hours they worked weekly, and their average hourly earnings, along with several versions of the unemployment rate.

The jobs report is among the most important and comprehensive economic releases and the earliest to provide data for the prior month. Its numbers are hotly anticipated and closely parsed as a result.

Many investment firms issue estimates ahead of the report for the monthly change in nonfarm payrolls and the unemployment rate, as well as hours worked and hourly earnings. The report often moves financial markets and is used among other data by the Federal Reserve to assess the state of the economy in setting monetary policy.

Key Takeaways

  • The monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the U.S. unemployment rate and the monthly change in nonfarm payrolls, as well as average earnings and hours worked.
  • The report consists of two main components: the household survey, which is used to estimate the unemployment rate, and the establishment survey providing data on payrolls, hours worked, and earnings.
  • Released on the first Friday of every month for the prior month, the jobs report gives investors one of the earliest and most comprehensive views into the recent state of the U.S. economy.
  • Earnings data is used to assess labor cost pressures, while hours worked can be a leading indicator of labor demand. Socioeconomic subcategories in the household survey show which groups are suffering the most and least from unemployment.

The Establishment Survey

The establishment survey, formally called the Current Employment Statistics Survey, gathers data from approximately 122,000 nonfarm businesses and government agencies for some 666,000 work sites and about one-third of all payroll workers. The survey is based on the weekly pay period that includes the 12th day of the month.

Anyone on the payroll of a surveyed business during that reference week, including part-time workers and those on paid leave, is included in the count used to produce an estimate of total U.S. nonfarm payrolls.

Farm workers are not included because of agriculture's seasonal nature; the sector's reliance on self-employment, unpaid family work, and undocumented workers; and its partial exemption from unemployment insurance requirements, since those records are used to compile the survey sample. The payroll data also does not include self-employed workers.


The number of jobs added in May 2023.

The establishment survey provides estimates for nonfarm payrolls, average weekly hours worked, and average hourly and weekly earnings nationwide as well as by state and metropolitan area, and by industry. The report also tallies the hours worked and earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees.

Survey results are adjusted based on the "birth/death model"—for businesses rather than people. The BLS uses it to estimate monthly payroll changes resulting from the openings and closings of businesses beyond its survey sample.

The numbers are seasonally adjusted to filter out fluctuations like the annual surge in retail sector hiring ahead of the holiday shopping season and the wintertime slowdowns in construction, though the BLS also provides the data without the seasonal adjustments.

Nonfarm payroll totals are adjusted in each of the two monthly jobs reports following the initial release to incorporate additional survey responses and the latest seasonal adjustment factors. They're also subject to annual revisions benchmarking them to updated counts from unemployment insurance tax records.

The Household Survey

The household survey is based on monthly interviews of 60,000 households conducted for the BLS by the U.S. Census Bureau. Survey participants are asked about their employment status during the week including the 12th day of the month.

The most prominent product of the household survey is the official, or U-3, unemployment rate, calculated as a percentage of the unemployed actively seeking work relative to the labor force, or the sum of the employed and the unemployed. To be officially counted as unemployed, the survey respondent has to have been available for work in the reference week and made specific efforts to find work during the four prior weeks, unless awaiting an expected recall from a layoff.


The U.S. unemployment rate in May 2023, up 0.3% from April 2023.

The report provides alternative measures of unemployment and underemployment, including discouraged workers who would like a job but have stopped looking for one and those who would like a full-time job but are working part-time, as well as rates for job losses during the month, and those unemployed 15 weeks or longer.

The proportion of the labor force relative to the civilian noninstitutional population is known as the labor force participation rate, also specified in the household survey data.

While the household survey doesn't include children under the age of 16, it covers several categories of workers not counted by the establishment payrolls survey, including the self-employed, farm workers, household employees, and unpaid family workers. As such, it is a more comprehensive measure.

The smaller sampling size of approximately 60,000 as opposed to the establishment survey's coverage of one-third of the labor force, means the household survey's measure of employment is less precise. The threshold for a statistically significant employment change in the household survey is 300,000, versus 130,000 in the establishment survey.

Household survey data on employment status is subtotaled by race, gender, age, and education, as well as veteran status and period of service; disability status; worker classification, industry, and occupation; and whether the worker is a U.S. native or foreign-born. The unemployed are also counted by reason for and the duration of unemployment.

Employment Report Implications

A single month of job gains or losses is hardly a trend, and the monthly change in nonfarm payroll numbers is subject to wide fluctuations as well as sizable revisions. Still, it can be an invaluable gauge of economic trends in context with the reports from prior months and other economic data.

Employment is so integral to the U.S. economy that there is no single better proxy for its state, and the monthly jobs report is the most comprehensive employment gauge as well as one of the timeliest monthly economic indicators.

The unemployment rate and the change in nonfarm payrolls garner all the headlines and are likely the economic indicators cited most frequently by the mainstream media. But the data on earnings serve as an early and important indicator of employment costs, which can contribute to inflation. And the hours worked as well as the changes in the number of part-time and temporary workers provide leading indicators of labor demand.

The socioeconomic subcategories in the household survey help policymakers assess whether some groups are being left behind or making up ground.

How Does the BLS Collect Employment Data?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects employment data via its professionally trained field economists. These agents utilize house visits, phone calls, video calls, mail, and email to gather data via a conversational approach.

How Does the BLS Measure Unemployment?

The BLS measures unemployment by dividing the total number of unemployed people looking for a job by the total number of individuals in the labor force. The way in which the BLS defines "unemployed" and "labor force" can vary depending on the specific unemployment statistic. In general, the labor force consists of those who are working as well as those who are not working but actively looking for work. If you are not working and are not looking for a job, you are not factored into unemployment.

How Is the Jobs Report Calculated?

The Jobs Report from the BLS is calculated from two surveys. One survey is the household survey, which is where the unemployment rate is calculated, and the establishment survey, which reports on the jobs added and lost each month.

The Bottom Line

Though the monthly jobs numbers can be volatile and subject to subsequent revisions, they are a crucial economic indicator. Understanding what the Employment Situation Summary measures, and why, is a must for investors and policymakers seeking to assess the state of the U.S. economy.

Article Sources
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