Labor Force Status

Labor Force Status


Young Women Labor Force Status Variables

This section describes the labor force status variables, which capture work activity in the week before the interview. For a more comprehensive discussion on employment variables, see the Work Experience section.

Each questionnaire's Current Labor Force Status section collects information on the labor market activity in which respondents were engaged during most of the week prior to the interview. This series is based on the questions asked in the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) of American households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Department of Labor. The primary purpose of the CPS is to collect up-to-date information about the number of persons in the country who are employed, unemployed, or out of the labor force during a given survey week. Results from the CPS surveys, released in the monthly publication Employment and Earnings, provide detailed information, classified by age, sex, race, and various other characteristics, on the employment and unemployment experiences of the U.S. population.

Survey Week Labor Force Status

Two sets of variables describe each respondent's labor force status during the survey week for each survey. Due to the redesign of the Current Population Survey in 1994 and the subsequent redesign of the comparable Young Women questions, the questions and related variables are slightly different starting in 1995.

  1. Activity Most of Survey Week/Work for Pay or Profit: The 1968-93 'Activity Most of Survey Week' variables reflect each respondent's reply to the survey question "What were you doing most of last week?""Last week" refers to the full calendar week (Sunday through Saturday) preceding the date of interview. Although coding categories differ slightly over time, the following categories of responses were used to classify the data: (a) working; (b) with a job, not at work; (c) looking for work; (d) going to school; (e) keeping house; (f) unable to work; and (g) other. A new coding category, "retired," was added in 1991. Beginning in the mid-1980s, two versions of the 'Activity Most of Survey Week' variables, one edited by the Census Bureau and an unedited version, were made available to the public. In the early years of these surveys, responses to the CPS section were never edited. However, minor inconsistency problems, which developed during the creation of employment variables, over time led the Census Bureau to start editing the questions before running the ESR (Employment Status Recode) program. BLS requested that the unedited versions continue to be made available, appending "Edited," "Ed," or "E" to the edited variable descriptions to help researchers distinguish between the two. Additional information on this editing procedure can be found in the User Notes discussion in the Industries section.

    The main survey week activity question is followed by a second question that seeks to identify those respondents who did any work at all last week in addition to a main non-working activity (such as "looking for work" or "going to school"). This follow-up question is asked of all respondents except those who indicate that they were working or were unable to work.

    Definitions for each of these labor market activities are intended to be consistent with those utilized in the CPS. Census interviewers are instructed to use their CPS manual for assistance in coding the current labor force status questions. Since Census is responsible for CPS data collection, it is likely that NLS CPS questions are interpreted in a consistent manner.

    Starting in 1995, the redesigned question series titled "Work for Pay or Profit" asked whether the respondent had worked for pay or profit in the week before the interview. Follow-ups then asked about other activities during the reference week.

  2. Employment Status Recode (ESR)/Monthly Labor Recode (MLR): Created by the Census Bureau, ESR and MLR are very similar variables that recode responses to various employment-related questions into a consistent measure of each respondent's survey week labor force activity. ESR was constructed for the 1968-93 surveys; due to changes in the Current Population Survey that were reflected in the Young Women Current Labor Force Status section, MLR is constructed for 1995 and subsequent surveys. A series of decision rules, depicted below in Table YW1, clusters information collected from ten questions (dealing with main survey week activity, hours worked, whether/why absent from a job, job search activity, occupation, class of worker, etc.) into positive or negative indicators of "working," "with a job but not at work," and "unemployed (looking for work)." To be assigned to one of these recodes, a respondent must display at least two positive and no negative indicators that she belongs to one of these groups; otherwise she is considered to belong to one of the "not in the labor force" categories. For example, working more than 14 hours/week and a class of worker of "private employee" are positive indicators for a "working" ESR/MLR; a respondent with these positive indicators would not have any negative indicators for a "working" ESR/MLR.

    Either ESR or MLR is available for all survey years.

Table YW1. Employment Status Recode/Monthly Labor Recode Creation

Ten Employment-Related Questions Used to Create ESR/MLR
Major activity
Whether worked last week
Hours worked
Whether absent from job
Why absent from job
Whether looking for work
What doing to find work
Reason could not take job (availability for work)
Class of worker
Positive indicators 1. Working last week
2. 15+ hours worked
3. Class of worker entry other than "never worked"
4. 1-14 hours worked combined with class of worker entry other than "without pay"
1. Absent from job or business
2. Class of worker entry other than "without pay" or "never worked"
3. Reason for absence from work other than "layoff" or "new job to begin in 30 days"
1. Absent from job or business
2. Reason for absence is "layoff" or "new job to begin in 30 days"
3. Looking for work
4. Any entry in class of worker (including "never worked" and "without pay")
5. Method of looking for work entered other than "nothing"
Negative indicators 1. 1-14 hours worked combined with class of worker = "without pay" 1. Reason for absence from work is "layoff" or "new job to begin in 30 days"
2. Working last week
3. Any hours worked
4. Class of worker is "without pay"
1. Method of looking for work is "nothing"
2. Not available for work
3. Reason for absence from work is "other" (not "layoff" or "new job to begin in 30 days")
4. Working last week
5. Any hours worked
Source: Census Bureau. "Standardized Employment Status Questions and Recodes." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, April 1977.

The various codes that categorize activities for those respondents not in the labor force vary across survey years and cohort. Table YW2 presents the coded values by survey year for the ESR/MLR variables.

Table YW2. Employment Status Recode/Monthly Labor Recode Codes

  68-77 78-82 83 85-88 91, 93 95-2003
Working 1 1 1 1 1 1
With a Job, Not at Work 2 2 2 2 2 2
Unemployed 3 3 3 3 3  
Unemployed, Layoff           3
Unemployed, Looking           4
In School 4 4 4 4 4  
Keeping House 5 5 5 5 5  
Retired         7 5
Unable to Work 6 6 6 6 6  
Disabled           6
(Code Not Used) 7 7        
Other 8 8 7 8 8 7
Never Worked 0          
Noninterview -5

While the "Current Labor Force Status" sections of NLS questionnaires follow the wording and format of those asked in the CPS, users should be aware that NLS CPS sections include additional questions over and above those found in the CPS surveys.

Classification of "unemployed" and "out of the labor force" for the telephone surveys in 1975, 1977, 1980, and 1982 is not absolutely consistent with CPS definitions due to the absence of one question, "What were you doing last week to find work?" Beginning in 1995, MLR replaced ESR to match changes in the Current Population Survey; the decision rules for MLR are slightly different. In this year, CHRR also began to create the status variable, which had previously been created by the Census Bureau.

Researchers examining employment over time can construct a loose approximation of ESR/MLR by using positive responses to the following three questions: (1) Did you do any work at all last week? (2) Did you have a job or business from which you were temporarily absent? and (3) Have you been looking for work? A respondent, for example, who is coded "other" on 'Activity Most of Survey Week' but has a job from which she was absent would be reclassified as "working."

Related Variables: Information available on the employment status of household members is described in the Household Composition section of this guide.

Survey Instruments & Documentation: Questions on main survey week activity are located at the beginning of the "Current Labor Force Status" section of each questionnaire. Each year's Interviewers' Reference Manual provided detailed instructions for interviewers on how to code this section of the questionnaire in a manner consistent with CPS.