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September, 1988, Vol. 111, No. 9
A year's work: labor force activity
from a different perspective
"How many Americans work all year?" "How many persons experience unemployment sometime during a given year?" These are some of the questions that cannot be answered with the typical data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which refer to a single week each month. Even the annual average data are nothing more than an average of the situation in those 12 "typical" weeks. The annual work experience survey, conducted each March as a supplement to the CPS, provide data which reveal how many persons worked or looked for work, or did both, during the previous year.
The March supplement provides a comprehensive year-long view of labor force activity, that is, the number of weeks each person spent working, looking for work, or not in the labor force. These data provide a different perspective on the work force than the monthly data. For example, while the monthly survey indicated that about 8.2 million people were unemployed in a typical week in 1986, the March supplement showed that almost 21 million persons had been unemployed for at least 1 week during that year.
Thus, the work experience data enhance the monthly CPS numbers. Some trends, for example, the overall economic strength from year to year or the long-term increases in labor force participation of women, are evident from both perspectives. Often, however, one view provides information not obtained from the other, such as the inability of the monthly CPS to show the number and weeks women work during the year.
This report examines the results of the March 1987 work experience questions. It addresses five specific issues or trends for which these data provide a unique view of the labor market.
This excerpt is from an article published in the September 1988 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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