Labor Force Status

Labor Force Status

CPS Changes in 1994

Beginning in 1994, the "Current Labor Force Status" (CPS) section was changed to ensure that the NLSY79 matched changes that occurred in the Current Population Survey. This survey underwent a major revision in January 1994, thus causing a revision of the corresponding NLSY79 section.

The Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics revised the national CPS for four major reasons: 

  • Because the last major CPS revision occurred in 1967, research suggested that the wording of many CPS questions was dated and response lists no longer reflected typical answers. For example, the old set of CPS responses did not have childcare problems on the list of reasons why a respondent was absent from work in the last week.
  • In 1979, the National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics, or Levitan Commission, had suggested a number of changes to U.S. labor force classifications. The new CPS implements many of the recommendations, such as tightening the definition of discouraged workers.
  • Research in survey methodology suggested better ways of asking questions. For example, inserted before occupation and industry questions is a new question that checks if the respondent has changed jobs or employers since the last survey. This extra question dramatically reduces the number of spurious job changes recorded.
  • Advances in computer technology made it desirable to switch from a paper-and-pencil instrument (PAPI) to a computer-administered instrument (CAPI). Switching to CAPI eliminates a variety of data transcription problems, automates the survey's skip patterns, and allows answer checks during the interview instead of during a post-processing phase.

NLSY79 users will see a number of changes when they compare the 1994 NLSY79 CPS section with earlier years. First, there are many more data items. The 1993 data set contains data for 87 CPS items, while the 1994 version contains 228 data items. Not all of these new questions contain useful data since a number are internal machine checks. 

Moreover, even though there are more data items, some respondents actually answer fewer questions in the new survey. For example, the 1994 NLSY79 contains information on 50 disabled individuals. These individuals answer only a small number of the section's questions. However, for many respondents the CPS section now contains more in-depth answers. Additional categories of answers are added to many questions, such as how respondents search for work and the number of jobs a multiple-job respondent holds.

Finally, NLSY79 researchers should know that the 1994 CPS section increases the likelihood that a respondent is classified as unemployed. For example, data from the BLS parallel survey suggest that the new survey's introduction increased national unemployment rates by 0.5 percent. Moreover, this increase primarily occurs among women, not men.

Weekly Labor Force/Military Status

The detailed information on employment dates and gaps between jobs collected during the regular youth surveys has permitted the construction of weekly labor force status variables for each NLSY79 respondent for the period January 1, 1978, through the most current survey date. In the event that a respondent is not interviewed for one or more surveys, he or she is asked to provide retrospective information at the first reinterview point in order to maintain a continuous set of variables in the Work History data. Respondents on active military duty are not asked CPS questions. These variables enable researchers to determine whether, during any week since January 1, 1978, a respondent was

  • working
  • associated with an employer
  • unemployed
  • out of the labor force
  • not working
  • on active military duty (for some survey years)

Because these weekly labor force variables are constructed from actual start and stop dates and information on employment gaps within and between jobs, the coding categories and meanings differ from the survey week variables described above. These coding categories are defined in Table 3. Users should note that the number of weeks in each array is greater than the actual number of weeks filled in to provide a "cushion" when creating the Work History data. The extra weeks found in these arrays contain no valid data. See the Work History section for further details.

Table 3. Definitions of NLSY79 Weekly Labor Force Activity Categories

Working: There was at least one job number or employer available for the respondent for a given week, indicating active employment with at least one employer.
Associated with Employer: Linkage with an employer is possible, but information on gaps within the tenure with an employer is not available. If all the time with an employer cannot be accounted for, this labor force status instead of a "working" status is assigned.
Unemployed: Not working, but was either actively looking for work or on layoff.
Out of the Labor Force: Not working, not actively looking for work or on a layoff.
Not Working: Not working, cannot distinguish between unemployed and out of the labor force status.
Active Military Service: Actively serving in the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard).
No Information Reported: Sufficient information to determine labor force status was not reported.

Comparison to Other NLS Cohorts: Data are available on the work activity of those NLSY79 children who were age ten and over at the interview date as well as on each mother's survey week activity and work history during quarterly periods preceding and following the child's birth. 

Current labor force status is determined for all respondents in the NLSY97 and the four Original Cohorts for each survey year. However, the current labor force status questions were changed for the women's cohorts in 1995 to reflect the redesign of the CPS. Users should use caution when comparing labor force status from surveys before these years to the NLSY79. For more precise details about the content of each survey, consult the appropriate cohort's User's Guide using the tabs above for more information.

Survey Instruments and Documentation The questions "What were you doing most of last week?" and "Last week, did you do any work for pay or profit?" are located in the "Current Labor Force Status" or CPS section of each year's questionnaire: Section 8 (1979); Section 7 (1980); Section 6 (1981, 1993); and Section 5 (1982-92, 1994-98, and 2006). Age restrictions relevant to the 1979 administration are discussed in Employment: An Introduction. Each year's interviewers' reference manual, or Question by Question Specifications (Q by Q), provides detailed instructions for interviewers on how to code the "Current Labor Force Status" sections of NLSY79 questionnaires. A special CPS specifications section of the Q by Q provides detailed definitions for each activity. Creation procedures for the 'Employment Status Recode' variables can be found within Appendix 1 - ESR Variable Creation in the NLSY79 Codebook Supplement. The weekly constructed labor force status variables are found in the STATUS array in WORKHISTORY-LABOR FORCE STATUS area of interest. The Work History documentation provides background information on the development of this information as well as descriptions and codes for each set of variables.
Areas of Interest The 'Activity Most of Survey Week' and 'Work for Pay or Profit Last Week' variables are located on the main NLSY79 data set within the "CPS" area of interest; both versions of ESR are located in the "Key Variables" file. The summary measures discussed above are located in the "Key Variables" area of interest on the combined NLSY79 main and the work history area of interest. One set of variables exists for each survey year.