Current Population Survey
Current Population Survey
The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a survey of fifty thousand to sixty thousand households in the United States that has been conducted monthly since 1940 by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS has been used extensively by social science researchers to address a wide variety of questions, and it is the source used to compile numerous official statistics for the U.S. government.
The CPS emerged from a survey implemented in 1937, the Enumerative Check Census, that attempted to measure unemployment nationwide. One of the largest and most important changes to the survey occurred in 1954 when the number of primary sampling units increased more than threefold. In 1994, due to technological advances in computing, a redesign of the survey was instituted to obtain more accurate and comprehensive information.
The CPS is administered to a sample representing the civilian noninstitutional population of the United States living in housing units. (For more on the material in this section, see U.S. Department of Labor 2002.) Each housing unit is in the sample for a total of eight months over a sixteen-month time horizon—four months in, eight months out, and four months in. This rotation cycle ensures that 75 percent of the sample overlaps from month to month and 50 percent overlaps from year to year. (These need not be the same households, since the CPS is a housing unit-based sample rather than a household-based sample.) The survey is administered mostly by phone interviews with occasional site visits. The information is available at the individual, family, and household level.
The core portion of the CPS contains numerous variables portraying the employment status of all members of the households over the age of sixteen, including items such as their status in the paid labor force, occupation, number of hours worked, and reasons for not working. In addition, information on such subjects as age, sex, race, ethnicity, and education is collected. The CPS also collects supplemental data from additional questions besides the core content of the survey. Areas of supplemental data include length of time spent in the same occupation, reasons for changing occupations, use of unemployment benefits or health insurance benefits, migration, citizenship status, birth history, childcare, school enrollment, food insecurity, and food expenditures. Of particular note is the March Supplement of the CPS, where extensive information on income and its sources is garnered along with other relevant demographic variables, including participation in assistance programs.
CPS data is used by researchers across a wide variety of research topics, including the following four areas. First, researchers and government policymakers use the CPS to assess the nation’s economic situation and to obtain unemployment data and information regarding participation rates in the paid workforce. Specific areas examined include wage gaps among different races across different occupations, recent trends in economic status across races, and the hiring and firing experiences of different groups of people. Along the same lines, general income data is generated that is used to address such issues as income distribution among occupations, stability of earnings of males and females in marital relationships, and the relationship between stock market performance and retirement behavior.
Second, data from the CPS is used to study the well-being of families and children. The CPS aids in understanding the prevalence and severity of poverty, the determinants that lead to poverty, and the determinants of participation in government programs, such as the Food Stamp Program (e.g., Gundersen and Offutt 2005). One of the more visible reports is the annual report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States (DeNavas-Walt et al. 2004, 2005).
Third, health issues and insurance coverage have been examined utilizing CPS data. Workplace policies to reduce smoking prevalence among workers have been investigated along with job attainment and the number of hours worked among ill individuals. Researchers have also studied the effect of Medicaid care provided by clinics and hospitals on insurance coverage, as well as gaps in health insurance coverage between different races and between men and women.
Fourth, CPS data has been used to explore issues in education. Such topics include the gap in early education between children of different income groups, the influence of maternal age on children’s disability status and school progress, and factors influencing educational attainment of immigrant children, adolescents, and adults. Additionally, researchers have explored the relationship between access to home computers and improved educational outcomes.
SEE ALSO National Family Health Surveys; National Longitudinal Survey of Youth; Panel Study of Income Dynamics; Surveys, Sample
DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Cheryl Hill Lee. 2005. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004. U.S. Census Bureau Publication, P60-229. http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p60-229.pdf.
DeNavas-Walt, Carmen, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Robert J. Mills. 2004. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2003. U.S. Census Bureau Publication, P60-226. http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/p60-226.pdf.
Gundersen, Craig, and Susan Offutt. 2005. Farm Poverty and Safety Nets. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 87 (4): 885–899.
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and U.S Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau. 2002. Current Population Survey: Design and Methodology. Technical Paper 63RV. http://www.bls.census.gov/cps/tp/tp63.htm.
Brandie M. Ward