Skip to main content

Glossary of Labor Force Terms Used in the Current Population Survey

Current Population Survey:

A monthly survey of households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Reference week:

The Current Population Survey (CPS) labor force questions ask about labor market activities for 1 week each month. This week is referred to as the "reference week." The reference week is defined as the 7-day period, Sunday through Saturday, that includes the 12th of the month.


Those who during the reference week (a) did any work at all (for at least 1 hour) as paid employees; worked in their own businesses, professions, or on their own farms; or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a family member or (b) were not working, but who had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs.


All people who were not employed during the reference week but were available for work (excluding temporary illness) and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week are classified as unemployed.

Civilian Labor force:

The civilian labor force consists of all people 16 years of age or older classified as employed or unemployed who did not reside in institutions or were on active duty in the military.

Unemployment rate:

The number of unemployed as a percentage of the civilian labor force

Employment-participation rate:

The number of people employed as a percentage of the civilian non-institutional population

Labor force participation rate:

The number of people employed as a percentage of the civilian non-institutional population

Discouraged workers:

Those not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but are not currently looking, because they believe there are no jobs available or there are none for which they would qualify. Specifically, the main reason identified by discouraged workers for not recently looking for work is one of the following: believes no work available in line of work or area; could not find any work; lacks necessary schooling, training, skills, or experience; employers think too young or too old; or other types of discrimination.

Employed part-time for economic reasons:

Sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time, this category refers to individuals who gave an economic reason for working 1 to 34 hours during the reference week. Economic reasons include slack work or unfavorable business conditions, inability to find full-time work, and seasonal declines in demand.

Marginally attached workers:

Those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers are a sub-set of marginally attached workers.

Reason for unemployment:

Unemployed individuals are categorized according to their status at the time they became unemployed. The categories include:

  1. Job losers: a group composed of (a) people on temporary layoff from a job to which they expect to be recalled and (b) permanent job losers, whose employment ended involuntarily and who began looking for work;
  2. Job leavers: people who quit or otherwise terminated their employment voluntarily and began looking for work;
  3. People who completed temporary jobs: individuals who began looking for work after their jobs ended;
  4. Re-entrants: people who previously worked but were out of the labor force prior to beginning their job search;
  5. New entrants: individuals who never worked before and who are entering the labor force for the first time.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau