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What is the Current Population Survey?

By Christina Edwards
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Current Population Survey is a statistical survey conducted each month by the United States Bureau of Census. Participants are interviewed for information on such things as employment status and demographics. The information provided is then used to estimate the labor situation of the nation as a whole.

In 1940, a small household survey was started by an independent agency called the Works Progress Administration. The purpose of this survey was to track any changes in the labor force, such as unemployment rates. In 1942 the survey became the responsibility of the United States Census Bureau, and in 1994 the Current Population Survey was completely redesigned.

It is estimated that around 60,000 households, which are chosen by very complex stratified sampling techniques, are eligible to participate in the Current Population Survey. Of these 60,000 households, roughly 50,000 participate. A responsible adult is interviewed to provide answers to questions about each member of the household over the age of 15. These questions concern such things as whether an individual is employed or unemployed, the hours worked, and how much is earned. Demographic information, such as age, race, sex, education, and marital status, is also collected.

Information collected during the Current Population Survey keeps track of several statistics, including the number of individuals who are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force. Employed individuals are the individuals that have worked for pay during the survey week, worked without pay for a family-owned business, or were temporarily absent from their regular job regardless of pay. Individuals who do not have a job and are currently looking, available for work, or laid off are considered to be unemployed. Individuals who do not have a job and are currently not looking, such as retirees and students, are not considered to be part of the labor force.

The results of the Current Population Survey are used to help determine the average economic situation of the United States. This is then used by the government and lawmakers to evaluate and plan a number of government programs, such as unemployment compensation. These statistics can also be accessed by the general public, media, students, and academics.

A number of other countries, besides the United States, use very similar surveys to measure unemployment rates. Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Australia all use this method, along with all of the countries in the European Economic Community. The European Economic Community, or EEC for short, includes a number of countries in Europe, including France, Italy, Ireland, and Spain.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon936473 — On Mar 01, 2014

I was just hit with this CPS. Isn't this against the constitution and we don't have to answer the questions?

I was asked the following questions. Why do they need to know the personal things about me?

1. Are you under psychological care? Or have ever been?

2. Do you get upset easily or ever feel depressed?

3. Do you work? If not, why not? Do you want to work?

5. Do you have any disabilities that would prevent you from working?

6. How much do you spend for groceries and how often do you go?

7. How much of your groceries are paper products like paper towels and toilet paper?

8. What are your eating habits?


1. Wages or salary before deductions

2. Income from nonfarm business, partnership, or professional practice after expenses

3. Income from own farm after expenses

4. Social Security or Supplemental Security income

5. Unemployment compensation

6. Interest on savings, bonds, and so on

7. Dividends on stocks, mutual funds, and so on

8. Pensions

9. Alimony or child support

10. Public assistance or welfare

11. Estates or trusts


1. Premium expenditures for health insurance Policies - include total spending on all policies excpet Medicare Part B premiums; assign premium payments to policyholder

2. Over-the-counter expenses on health related products, not reimbursed - e.g., aspirin, cold remedies, etc.

3. Medical care and equipment expenses, not reimbursed - e.g., copayments for doctor visits, prescriptions, medication, hearing/vision aids, etc.

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