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

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

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. Enumeration for March began on the 15th. On March 20th, the Census Bureau suspended in-person data collection 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).

Enumeration continued by phone exclusively in April through June of 2020. Response rates continued to be unusually low for incoming rotation groups that normally recieve in-person interviews. Low response rathes persisted during subsequent surveys for groups that entered the CPS during the pandemic.

In July of 2020, in-person interviews began again in some areas of the country and the Census Bureau call centers that usually assist with CPS data collection also returned to interviewing in a limited capacity in this month. Response rates rose slightly compared to May and June, but remain lower than average. This is particularly true among incoming rotation groups. Low response rates persist for those rotation groups that entered the CPS in May and June. Limited in-person interviewing continued into August 2020 and response rates showed similar trends to July.

In-person interviews were expanded to all areas of the country in September of 2020. In-person interviews were conducted only after attempting to reach all households by phone. The two Census Bureau call centers that normally assist with CPS interviewing also continued to conduct phone interviews on a limited basis. Response rates remained low in September, but represent an increase over previous months. Data collection continued in this manner and showed similar trends in response rates in October.

For more information on data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic, see...

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
June 48.42 55.81 60.67 68.94 68.35 70.91 72.03 74.28 64.88
July 54.24 60.95 64.29 66.58 70.43 72.44 73.74 75.11 67.18
August 60.03 65.05 67.49 69.08 72.89 74.76 75.66 76.90 70.24
September 73.43 77.27 77.76 79.20 78.76 81.45 81.44 82.60 79.01
October 75.58 78.08 79.99 80.12 79.79 81.53 83.27 83.64 80.26


There is evidence of non-random attrition in the CPS since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the appendix of their working paper, "Determinants of Disparities in COVID-19 Job Losses", Montenovo et al. demonstrate that those who respond to the CPS in February 2020, but are not present in the March sample are, on average, younger, more diverse, and less educated than those who also respond in both February and March of 2020.


The ASEC is a combination of the March Basic Monthly sample and hispanic oversample collected in November of the previous year and SCHIP oversamples collected in August-November of the previous year and February and April of the survey year. As described above, the coronavirus pandemic affected CPS data collection in March and April. As the ASEC interviews collected in April are only from those in the first and fifth rotation groups, where response rates were particularly low, there were fewer respondents available for the ASEC supplement in this month.

The many months from which the ASEC is drawn and the possibility that a respondent answers the basic monthly portion of the survey but not the supplement make calculating a response rate for the ASEC complicated. The Census Bureau estimates that the unweighted combined supplement response rate was 61.1% in 2020, compared to 67.6 percent in 2019. Median income and educational attainment of 2020 ASEC respondents are highter than those in 2019, suggesting that non-random attrition also affects the ASEC in 2020.

For more information on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ASEC data, see Appendix G of the 2020 ASEC documentation.

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 through August 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, Before June collection began, Census conducted additional traning and review of the guidance discussed above, and included these updated instructions in the survey to assist enumerators. These measures seem to have been somewhat effective, reducing the share of those misclassified as "employed but not at work" in June compared to preceeding months. Further training was administered in order to further reduce this error before July collection began. Misclassification rates were much lower in July, August, September, and October than in preceeding months.

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 added five new questions about work in the time of COVID-19 to the basic monthly CPS questionnaire.

These questions were first asked in May of 2020 and will continue until further notice. These questions can be previewed here. Summary tables made using these data are available from the Census Bureau. These variables are now available from IPUMS CPS here.