Public Sector Payrolls (National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report)

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This adjusted series is featured in the chart. The process to adjust household survey employment begins with the official household survey employment estimate and removes categories of workers not included in the payroll survey by subtracting agriculture and related employment, the nonagricultural self-employed, unpaid workers in family businesses, workers in private households, and workers on unpaid leave from their jobs. Then, to roughly adjust household survey employment from an employed people concept to a jobs concept, adds the number of nonagricultural wage and salary multiple jobholders.

More information about the adjusted research series is in the Appendix. The adjustment process is imperfect, though, because precise data are not available in some cases to make the best possible adjustment. For example, the adjustment for multiple jobholding adds those whose primary job is as a nonagricultural wage and salary employee, but does not account for the characteristic of their secondary job.

Someone who is self-employed or working in agriculture as their secondary job would not be included in the payroll survey, so their addition leads to overstatement in the adjusted household survey employment.

National Bureau of Economic Research Project Report

Separately, past research has shown that some independent contractors are mistakenly reported as wage and salary employees, rather than self-employed, in the household survey. This, too, causes some overstatement in the adjusted household survey employment. Independent contractors were a focus of BLS research into the employment trend divergence following the recession, although the results were inconclusive.

Outside research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in link and reference below provided additional information about multiple jobholding, independent contractors, and differences in the household and payroll survey employment measures. The household survey reference period is a 7-day calendar week, typically the week that includes the 12th of the month. See the note below about exceptions. The payroll survey reference period uses the employer's pay period that includes the 12th of the month.

Employer pay periods vary in length; they may be weekly, biweekly or twice monthly, monthly, or some other variation. Biweekly pay periods are the most common. As a result, the payroll survey employment measure to some degree will reflect a longer reference period than the household survey measure. The possible effect of reference period differences on the surveys' employment measures is not known, and BLS is not able to adjust for it when comparing the two data series. Note about household survey reference week exceptions: The November and December household survey reference weeks are sometimes moved one week earlier in the month so that survey interviewers are not contacting households during major holiday periods.

The November reference week will be moved one week earlier if Thanksgiving falls during the week that contains the 19th of the month, or if the Census Bureau determines that there is not enough data processing time before the survey week for December. If the calendar week including the 5th of December is contained entirely within the month of December, then it will be the December reference week instead of the week including the 12th.

Workers who are paid "off-the-books" are not reported in the payroll survey. The household survey could possibly include some of these workers, but BLS cannot determine the extent to which they might be reflected in household survey employment. Outside research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in link and reference below provided insight into off-the-books employment and household and payroll survey employment differences. Employment estimates from the payroll survey are a count of jobs, while the household survey provides an estimate of the number of employed people.

If a person changes jobs and is on the payrolls of two employers during the same reference period, both jobs would be counted in the payroll survey estimates. The household survey, on the other hand, will simply reflect one employed person in its measure.


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  • Comparing employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys.
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If the rate of job-to-job movement changed substantially in a given time period, it potentially could impact trends produced from the payroll survey. An acceleration in the rate of job changing was considered as a possible factor in the employment divergence between the surveys during the robust job growth period in the late s. The comparisons of household and payroll survey employment in the chart accompanying this documentation use two special research series developed from the official household survey employment measure.

The data series labeled "Household survey" in the chart uses historical data that have "smoothed" the level shifts from annual population control adjustments to the household survey.

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As noted above , population controls are independent estimates of population used to weight the household survey sample results to reflect the civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and older. Census Bureau develops the population controls and updates them each year to reflect the latest information about population change and to incorporate any improvements in the estimation methodology.

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The usual BLS practice is to introduce the entire population adjustment amount into the January data each year, without making retroactive revisions to apply the adjustment back to the decennial census base year. In years when the population adjustments are large, this can result in significant shifts in the January labor force and employment levels that can be problematic for data analysis. When calculating changes in the employment level over certain time periods, for example, a level shift due to a population adjustment may distort the actual trend.

As a convenience to data users, BLS created labor force and employment research series that smooth out the level shifts resulting from population control adjustments made from January forward. The population adjustments are wedged back incrementally to the previous decennial census base year. Additional information about the methodology is available in the household survey technical documentation on the BLS website.

In the current research series: Data from — were smoothed for the Census population control adjustment Data from — were smoothed for intercensal adjustments to the Census population base implemented in January of — Data from — were smoothed for the Census population control adjustment introduced in January Data from — were smoothed for intercensal adjustments to the Census population base implemented in January of — The smoothed employment research series ends with December of the prior calendar year and is meant to be used with current-year data from the official household survey employment series.

The smoothed employment research series is available in XLSX format in the household survey technical documentation on the BLS website. Data users should note that this research series will not match the official household survey employment estimates in BLS publications and on the BLS website.

The adjusted household survey employment research series used in the chart is a variation of the smoothed household survey employment research series that, in addition to being smoothed for population control adjustments, has been definitionally adjusted to be more similar to the payroll survey employment measure.


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The process to adjust household survey employment begins with the official household survey employment estimate and removes categories of workers not included in the payroll survey. Specifically, the calculation uses the following household survey data series: The series is then smoothed for population control adjustments, as described above. In the final step, the definitionally adjusted and smoothed employment series is seasonally adjusted.

US Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparing employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys On this page: Why are there two monthly employment measures? Recent trends in household and payroll survey employment Chart: Household and payroll survey employment updated monthly Chart data: Household and payroll survey employment time series Comparison of survey concepts, definitions, and methodologies Comparing employment trends from the two surveys Sampling error Payroll survey benchmark revisions Business births and deaths in the payroll survey Population controls in the household survey Worker classification in the household survey Survey reference periods "Off-the-books" employment Job changing Selected research on employment trend divergences Appendix: Household survey research series used for payroll employment comparisons.

Household survey research series used for payroll employment comparisons Why are there two monthly employment measures? Both surveys are needed for a complete picture of the labor market. Household and payroll survey employment, to present updated monthly In the chart, the household survey employment level the green line is higher than that of the payroll survey the blue line because the household survey has a broader employment definition than the payroll survey.

Payroll survey employment, seasonally adjusted Adjusted household survey employment research series, seasonally adjusted Household survey employment, seasonally adjusted: Current year data from the official household survey employment series are combined with historical data from a special smoothed employment research series. Comparison of survey concepts, definitions, and methodologies The major features and distinctions of the two surveys are shown below. Monthly sample survey of approximately , businesses and government agencies, representing about , individual worksites.

Generally the calendar week that includes the 12th of the month see note below. Employer pay period that includes the 12th of the month could be weekly, biweekly, monthly, or other. Estimate of employed people multiple jobholders are counted only once. Includes people on unpaid leave from their jobs. Estimate of jobs multiple jobholders are counted for each nonfarm payroll job.

Includes only people who received pay for the reference pay period. Economic Trends , Gupta and Steven F. Venti, in Savings and Bequests , T. Shoven and Michael D. Policies Affecting the Aged," with Richard G. Venti, Journal of Public Economics 44, Stock and Robin L. Lumsdaine, Journal of Public Economics 43, Discussion of Some Options," in A. Stock, Econometrica 58, 5, September Venti, Quarterly Journal of Economics , August Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, Economics of Aging , editor, University of Chicago Press, Case," in the Journal of the Japanese and International Economies 2, Tax Policy and the Economy , Vol.

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Venti, in Pensions in the U. Economy , University of Chicago Press, Venti, in Taxnotes , Vol. Social Experimentation, edited with Jerry A. Ostro and Jerry A. Descriptive Evidence," Working Paper, The Youth Labor Market Problem: Academic Achievement and Job Performance: Earnings and Promotions , Garland Press, Hausman, Econometrica 47, March Hausman, Econometrica 42, March A Partial Analysis," with Charles Manski, ed.

Hausman, Econometrica 45, May Area Director, Health and Retirement Programs, present. Director, Program on Economics of Aging, present. Director, Project on Public Sector Payrolls. Co-Director, Project on Youth Employment,