Nonfarm Payroll: What It Means, and Why It's Important

What Is Nonfarm Payroll?

The nonfarm payroll measures the number of workers in the U.S. except those in farming, private households, proprietors, non-profit employees, and active military.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) surveys private and government entities throughout the U.S. to obtain information about their payrolls. The nonfarm payroll numbers are reported monthly to the public through the closely followed Employment Situation summary.

Key Takeaways

  • Nonfarm payrolls include 80% of the number of workers in the U.S. and exclude farm workers and workers in several other job classifications.
  • Active duty military members are excluded from the nonfarm payroll data.
  • Data on nonfarm payrolls is collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and included in the monthly Employment Situation report.
  • The Employment Situation report includes two surveys, the Household Survey, and the Establishment Survey.

Understanding Nonfarm Payroll

According to the BLS, nonfarm employee classifications account for approximately 80% of U.S. business sectors contributing to gross domestic product (GDP). Besides farm workers, other categories excluded from the nonfarm payroll numbers include:

  • Civilian government employees are counted except for government-appointed officials, and employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency
  • Active military service members
  • Private household employees and domestic household workers
  • Unincorporated business owners such as sole proprietors and self-employed workers that operate without registered business incorporation
  • Non-profit employees

Employment Situation Summary

The Employment Situation summary is a closely followed monthly report released by the BLS on the first Friday of the month following data collection. The report is created from two comprehensive surveys: the Household Survey and the Establishment Survey.

The Household Survey reports the unemployment rate and details employment demographics. The Establishment Survey segment headlines the number of new nonfarm payroll jobs added to the national economy.

Household Survey

Key components of the Household Survey include:

  • The overall unemployment rate
  • Unemployment rates by gender
  • Unemployment rates by race
  • Unemployment rates by education
  • Unemployment rates by age
  • Reasons for unemployment
  • Employment data by types of alternative employment
  • The participation rate

Participation Rate

The labor force participation rate estimates an economy’s active workforce by the number of people ages 16 and older who are employed or actively seeking employment, divided by the total non-institutionalized, civilian working-age population.

Establishment Survey

The Establishment Survey portion of the “Employment Situation” report provides details on nonfarm payroll additions and is referred to as the nonfarm payrolls report. Key components of the Establishment Survey include:

  • The number of total nonfarm payrolls added by an entity for the reporting month
  • Nonfarm payroll additions by industry category, such as durable goods, non-durable goods, services, and government
  • Details on hours worked
  • Details on average hourly earnings

Nonfarm Payroll Data and Economic Analysis

The nonfarm payroll additions and the unemployment rate are headlines of the Employment Situation report, but economists and policymakers use all available data to assess the state of the economy and forecast future levels of economic activity.

The report contains insights into the labor force that directly impact the economy, the stock market, the value of the U.S. dollar, the value of Treasuries, and the price of gold. The Household Survey data reveals trends in the unemployment rate and participation rate that may be associated with demographics. The Establishment Survey report offers valuable information on job changes within sectors or industries.

The Employment Situation report provides a snapshot of the effects of significant events that impact the economy. The COVID-19 pandemic stifled economic activity and erased nearly 20 million jobs within weeks in March 2020. Reports show that although most sectors and the economy as a whole have recovered as of January 2023, the leisure and hospitality sector and the public sector both lag in job recovery.

How Do Nonfarm Payrolls Impact the Financial Market?

The report contains data and statistics regarding the employment situation in the United States, which can identify trends in economic growth, inflation, housing starts, and gross domestic product, all of which affect the movement of financial markets.

When Are Nonfarm Payrolls Released?

The data is commonly released on the first Friday of each month at 8:30 AM ET and reflects the previous month's data.

Is Nonfarm Payrolls a Leading or Lagging Indicator?

The nonfarm payroll report is not a leading indicator but provides a snapshot of incidents that affect the overall economy.

The Bottom Line

Nonfarm payroll refers to the number of jobs in the private sector and government agencies. It excludes farm workers, private household employees, proprietors, non-profit employees, and actively serving military. The nonfarm payroll numbers are reported monthly to the public through the closely followed Employment Situation report which details changes in unemployment by sector and demographic and new jobs added within the economy.

Article Sources
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  1. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "All Employees Total Nonfarm."

  2. World Economic Forum. "U.S. Unemployment Pre-Pandemic."

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