unemployment rate

Under the Hood of the Employment Report Household Survey

You might be wondering how the unemployment rate could stay the same, 9.1% while zero actual payrolls jobs were added. When the unemployment report is released, it's actually a 2fer. There are two separate surveys or reports: the current establishment survey, which reports on nonfarm payrolls only, and the the household survey, which uses the Census population estimates as a base. The establishment survey has an error margin of 100,000 per month, while the household survey has an error margin of 400,000 per month. Additionally the establishment survey is jobs, as reported by employers. It is W-2 types of jobs and doesn't count agriculture workers to boot, whereas the household survey estimates the self-employed, farm workers, the glorified servants of the uber-rich and my favorite, unpaid family workers.

Additionally the survey timing is different. The establishment survey picks up the pay period which includes the 12th of that month. So, whether one is paid hourly, daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, they just look at the pay period which includes the 12th. No pay on the 12th and you're paid daily, then that job doesn't count, including unpaid sick days. Working one hour a month and it magically falls on the 12th? By this survey, that's actually a job.

The Household survey, also called the current population survey also takes results for the week which includes the 12th day of each month. People are counted as employed in this survey, even when they are absent from their jobs for that entire week, paid or not paid.

For more details on the surveys, see this FAQ.

Exercises for the Reader from the January 2011 Unemployment Report

Remember in school when there was a problem so tough even the Professor couldn't figure it out? Remember how teachers and even textbooks would say this is an exercise left for the reader instead of admitting the problem wasn't easily solved? Such is our employment situation report.