Home / Economy / Articles / How does the US government gather the monthly jobs report?

Let's talk about jobs, and how the nation measures them.

Every month, the federal government releases its preliminary jobs report, which offers the earliest indicator as to how many people in the US are employed or unemployed. What these jobs reports show can often have a huge impact on the country's overall economy and the policies and decisions that are driving it.

Where does the employment data come from?

It starts with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is part of the US Department of Labor. This agency uses a monthly survey of 60,000 households, called the Current Population Survey (CPS), to determine these numbers.

When does the jobs report come out?

The BLS releases its employment situation summary on the first Friday of each month.

How does the BLS measure unemployment?

The unemployment rate is a simple percentage of the labor force that is classified on this survey as unemployed. To be unemployed, you must meet all of the following criteria:

  • You were not employed at the time of the survey.
  • You were available for work at the time of the survey, except for temporary illness.
  • You made at least one active effort to find a job during the prior four weeks.

There's a whole subset of definitions on what counts as an "active" job search.

Are the unemployment numbers reliable?

There have been critiques of the BLS data over the years, with questions about everything from accuracy of surveys based on sampling size, to how the BLS makes seasonal adjustments, and who actually counts as unemployed versus no longer on the job hunt. (As the list above indicates, there are people who may be technically unemployed, but they wouldn't count because they didn't meet all three criteria.)

But either way, the CPS is still the most widely accepted way for the government, economists, and businesses, and all of us, to understand the overall health of our job market and what it means for the country.

Learn more about the state of the economy from USAFacts, and get the data directly in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter.

Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
Last updated
April 2023