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Labor force status (CPS)

Codes and Frequencies

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EMPSTAT indicates whether persons were part of the labor force--working or seeking work--and, if so, whether they were currently unemployed. The variable also provides information on the status (e.g., retired or disabled )of persons not in the labor force.

Employment status was determined on the basis of answers to a series of questions relating to their activities during the preceding week. Those who reported doing any work at all for pay or profit, or working at least fifteen hours without pay in a family business or farm, were classified as "at work." Those who did not work during the previous week but who acknowledged having a job or business from which they were temporarily absent (e.g., due to illness, vacation, bad weather, or labor dispute) were also classified as employed, under the heading "employed - absent."

Unemployed persons make up the third element of the labor force. Individuals were coded as unemployed if they did no work for pay or profit, did not have a job from which they were briefly absent, and answered yes to a question about whether they had been looking for work in the past four weeks. People who were temporarily laid off from a job were also classified as unemployed.

Persons who were neither employed nor unemployed fall into the residual category, "not in labor force." Such individuals might be retired, disabled due to an illness lasting at least 6 months, occupied with other activities such as attending school or keeping house, or convinced that they are unlikely to find employment (discouraged workers).

EMPSTAT_CPS8 was drawn from the final CPS interview, conducted 2-5 months before the ATUS interview. Employment status was also collected at the time of the ATUS interview. See EMPSTAT. EMPSTAT_CPS8 distinguishes between not being in the labor force due to retirement, disability, or other reasons, but EMPSTAT does not.


This variable is comparable across years from 2003 onward.


  • Civilian CPS household members age 15+.


  • 2003-2023