CPS and COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to up-end many aspects of daily life, the Census Bureau continues to collect monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) data. At time of writing, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has not indicated that data releases will be delayed or interrupted as a result of the current public health crisis. IPUMS CPS will continue to process data as quickly as possible. Updates will be provided to registered IPUMS CPS users via email; follow @ipums on Twitter for the latest data release information.

Beginning with March of 2020, the BLS is releasing supplementary information about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on collection and processing of the data underlying the monthly Employment Situation news release (referred to hereafter as the impact statement). Information relevant to CPS data will be summarized here with links to the original documentation. As the situation evolves, this page will be updated with pandemic-related news about CPS data collection and processing.

General Data Collection

March 2020

During March of 2020, CPS data continued to be collected with some modifications in procedure for the safety of respondents and Census Bureau employees.

Enumeration for March began on the 15th. Households that normally receive in-person interviews are those first entering the survey rotation (month-in-sample one) and those that were re-entering the survey after the eight-month hiatus (month-in-sample five) (MISH). Households at other points in the CPS rotation are typically contacted via phone. The Census Bureau suspended in-person data collection on the 20th and closed two of the call centers that assisted in collecting CPS data. However, data collection continued by phone and efforts were made to reach households via phone that would normally have received an in-person visit. Response rates were lower than average by about 10 percentage points in March 2020 (see table below). Response rates were even lower for those households in rotation groups that would normally have received an in-person visit (over 20 percentage points lower for month-in-sample one and over 10 percentage points for month-in-sample five).

For more information see item 5 in the BLS March 2020 impact statement.

April 2020

Interviews for April were conducted exclusively by phone. The two Census Bureau call centers that usually assist with the collection of CPS data remained closed. Response rates continued to be low in April, over 10 percentage points below the average (see below). Response rates continued to be particularly low among rotation groups one and five who would have normally received a visit from the enumerator. Month-in-sample one and five response rates were similar to those same groups in March. Additionally, those households that entered the survey for the first time in March had a similarly low response rate for their second interview in April.

For more information see item 5 in the BLS April 2020 impact statement.

May 2020

Interviews were conducted exclusivley by phone again in May. The two Census Bureau call centers that usually assist with the collection of CPS data remained closed. Response rates continued to be lower in May both relative to April and to response rates for this month in 2019. Response rates for those groups entering and re-entering the survey rotation remained espeically low. Low response rates persisted among those groups who entered the survey in March and April. See the CPS Response Rates, 2019-2020 table below for details.

For more information see item 5 in the BLS May 2020 impact statement.

CPS Response Rates, 2019-2020
Year Month MIS 1 MIS 2 MIS 3 MIS 4 MIS 5 MIS 6 MIS 7 MIS 8 Total
2019 January 80.44 83.81 84.17 84.92 81.10 81.66 83.54 85.49 83.14
February 81.10 83.05 84.60 82.89 80.83 82.91 82.58 83.99 82.75
March 79.15 82.56 82.77 83.26 79.16 81.23 81.80 81.96 81.48
April 80.86 83.27 84.21 83.75 83.36 82.00 82.74 83.44 82.96
May 79.97 82.88 83.15 83.17 79.58 83.01 81.24 82.94 81.99
June 79.86 82.91 83.15 83.78 81.15 82.17 83.63 82.3 82.37
July 80.05 82.65 83.05 83.28 81.52 82.32 81.72 84.08 82.33
August 81.6 83.74 84.83 84.55 82.55 84.3 83.61 83.36 83.56
September 80.44 83.59 83.71 84.49 80.75 83.31 83.91 84.11 83.03
October 80.29 83.58 84.5 84.32 80.92 83.19 83.34 85.33 83.18
November 79.79 83.65 84.59 84.89 79.78 82.77 83.57 84.64 82.95
December 79.31 82.26 83.94 84.13 80.43 81.29 82.58 84.65 82.32
2020 January 81.66 79.96 82.27 82.34 83.49 79.11 81.83 80.8 83.53
February 80.47 83.8 84.02 82.87 80.07 81.6 83.08 82.9 82.34
March 56.82 74.17 77.31 77.53 68.64 75.16 76.05 78.58 73.04
April 46.71 63.51 75.66 78.21 68.56 72.69 76.19 78.07 69.92
May 47.75 56.37 67.72 76.52 68.29 71.35 73.67 77.67 67.36

Employment Data

Before March interviews began, enumerators were given specific instructions on how to categorize COVID-19-related deviations from normal work/employment during the reference week. These instructions remained in effect during April interviews.

Those who reported usually working full time (WKSTAT) but reported working less than 35 hours during the reference week (AHRSWORKT), are asked for the reason they worked less than their usual hours during the reference week (UH_HRRSN3_B1). COVID-19-related responses were categorized as follows:

By the Census Bureau's definition, respondents who reported doing no work during the reference week must expect to be called back to work within six months in order to be classified as "unemployed on temporary layoff". If a respondent was uncertain whether they would be able to return to work within six months due specifically to the COVID-19 pandemic, their response to this question was recorded as "yes" (UH_LAY6M_B1) so that they would be included in the unemployed on temporary layoff category.

For more information on pandemic-related enumerator instructions in

Despite these instructions, there is evidence that some persons who should have been classified as "unemployed on temporary layoff" due to COVID-19-related closures or reductions in business were miscategorized as "employed but not at work." In accordance with standard procedure, BLS did not attempt to recategorize survey responses. However, as this misclassification error appears to be non-trivial and has persisted since March of 2020, BLS and the Census Bureau are trying to determine why the classification error continues to occur at such high levels. Before June collection begins, Census will conduct additional traning and review of the guidance discussed above, and will include these updated instructions in the survey to assist enumerators.

For more information on misclassified responses to employment questions in

The value for "unemployed on temporary layoff" is recoded to "unemployed, experienced worker" in the IPUMS CPS variable EMPSTAT. Original codes and labels are available to researchers as part of the unharmonized variable UH_MLR_B3. For more information on IPUMS CPS unharmonized varibles, see our documentation here.

COVID-19-Related Questions

To attempt to shed light on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the American labor market, the Bureau of Labor statistics will add five new questions about work in the time of COVID-19 to the basic monthly CPS questionnaire.

These questions will be asked first in May of 2020, however the data will not be publicly available until June. These questions can be previewed here. IPUMS CPS will process these data as soon as they become available and make them available through our extract system. Follow @ipums on twitter for the latest data release information.