DEFINITION of Current Population Survey

Current Population Survey is a statistical survey that is performed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on a monthly basis. The survey includes a representative sample of about 60,000 homes and focuses on those individuals who are 15 years and older to make an inferential assumption about the U.S. population as a whole.

BREAKING DOWN Current Population Survey

The survey seeks to determine the unemployment rate of certain regions, the earnings of person's surveyed, hours the respondent worked and other demographic factors as well. These demographic factors, such as age, sex and industry of work, are used to determine the unemployment rate for the country.

How The Survey Works

According to the BLS, "The Current Population Survey (CPS) is one of the oldest, largest, and most well-recognized surveys in the United States.  It is immensely important, providing information on many of the things that define us as individuals and as a society – our work, our earnings, and our education. 

In addition to being the primary source of monthly labor force statistics, the CPS is used to collect data for a variety of other studies that keep the nation informed of the economic and social well-being of its people.  This is done by adding a set of supplemental questions to the monthly basic CPS questions.  Supplemental inquiries vary month to month and cover a wide variety of topics such as child support, volunteerism, health insurance coverage, and school enrollment.  Supplements are usually conducted annually or biannually, but the frequency and recurrence of a supplement depend completely on what best meets the needs of the supplement’s sponsor."

The survey doesn't provide details about individuals. "The CPS data provide reliable estimates at the state level and for 12 of the largest metropolitan statistical areas. The sample size does not allow reliable estimates to be obtained at the county level. In fact, not all counties are included in the sample, and data are not available for most counties that are sampled due to confidentiality laws. Tabulated data for states and local areas are available from the BLS Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment," BLS notes.

The survey is the most frequent and accurate of its kind. The CPS has one of the highest response rates among government household surveys, averaging around 90 percent. This rate is calculated after excluding those housing units that are either unoccupied (vacant, under construction) or occupied solely by persons not eligible for interview. These units make up approximately 18 percent of the total sample.