Visualization: National employment and unemployment

An interactive visualization of national employment and unemployment data.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, is the official record-keeper of statistics regarding employment.

Data about employment and unemployment comes from two surveys:

  • The Current Population Survey (CPS), according to BLS, “is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It provides a comprehensive body of data on the labor force, employment, unemployment, persons not in the labor force, hours of work, earnings, and other demographic and labor force characteristics.” 1
  • The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program “produces detailed industry estimates of nonfarm employment, hours, and earnings of workers on payrolls.” 2

Both programs are surveys, not a complete count or census, according to BLS:

  • Each month, CES surveys approximately 145,000 businesses and government agencies, representing approximately 697,000 individual worksites.
  • CPS is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The sample size is 60,000 households, covering about 110,000 individual persons.

Both programs count data for a survey reference period, which is the pay period that includes the twelfth day of a month. The surveys are usually released on the first Friday of a new month. Previous values are subject to revision as BLS refines estimates with additional sources of data.

BLS offers these definitions:

  • The labor force is the sum of employed and unemployed persons. The labor force participation rate is the labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population.
  • Employed persons consist of: persons who did any work for pay or profit during the survey reference week; persons who did at least 15 hours of unpaid work in a family-operated enterprise; and persons who were temporarily absent from their regular jobs because of illness, vacation, bad weather, industrial dispute, or various personal reasons.
  • Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work. Persons who were not working and were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been temporarily laid off are also included as unemployed. Receiving benefits from the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program has no bearing on whether a person is classified as unemployed.
  • The unemployment rate represents the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.
  • Persons who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force. This category includes retired persons, students, those taking care of children or other family members, and others who are neither working nor seeking work.

See Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey and Current Employment Statistics – CES (National) for more information on both programs.

Click here to access my interactive visualization of some of this data.

For more visualizations, click here.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.
  1. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Available at>.
  2. Current Employment Statistics – CES. Available at