Wood Words

Reading Between the Lines: Tips for decoding those unemployment stats



“Total nonfarm payroll.”

“Civilian labor force participation rate.”

“Job losers, leavers and reentrants.”

Feel like you need the Rosetta Stone to decipher employment data? We get it. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tables and releases can be difficult to interpret – especially without a clear understanding of the complex jargon they use.

Today, Wood Personnel is providing a plain-English overview of key BLS terms and data sources, to help you get meaningful employment information you can actually use.

Unemployment Stats – a Little Background

Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announces the total number of employed and unemployed people in the U.S. for the previous month, along with helpful supporting statistics.

The government conducts a monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment, contacting about 60,000 eligible households from approximately 2,000 geographic areas. Census Bureau representatives interview household members to collect a representative sample that provides accurate figures for the entire nation.

Terms to Know

  • Employed. People with jobs. Specifically, people are considered “employed” if they did any work at all (full-time, part-time or temporary) for pay or profit during the CPS survey reference week.
  • Unemployed. People who are jobless, looking for a job (in the prior four weeks, according to BLS job search criteria), and available for work.
  • Labor force. The sum of the employed and unemployed (i.e., the number of people who are either working or actively seeking work.). People who are neither “employed” nor “unemployed” are not considered part of the labor force.
  • National unemployment rate. The number of unemployed people as a percentage of the labor force.
  • Labor force participation rate. The number of people in the labor force as a percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years old and over (i.e., the percentage of the population that’s either working or actively seeking work).
  • Nonfarm payroll. This represents the payroll data for the majority of U.S. organizations (approximately 80% of employees), including goods, construction and manufacturing companies. It excludes government employees, nonprofit employees, individuals who work within a private household, and farm employees.
  • Seasonal adjustments. Seasonal fluctuations cause total employment and unemployment to be higher in some parts of the year than in others. These variations make it difficult to tell whether changes are due to “normal” seasonal patterns or true economic changes. To deal with this problem, the government applies a statistical procedure to workforce data that eliminates the effects of regular seasonal fluctuations.

Where can you find the unemployment stats you need?

Several times each year, Wood Personnel examines Middle Tennessee’s local economic and employment indicators. We extract and interpret the most relevant, recent statistics to provide a comprehensive review of our area’s employment picture.

For more comprehensive employment and economic statistics, follow these links:

Nashville Area Economic Summary

Nashville Economy at a Glance

BLS Employment Situation

Want to learn more?

Give Wood Personnel a call. Our Middle TN staffing services will keep your workforce flexible, while allowing you to capitalize on new business opportunities – no matter what our local economy throws your way.

Source: How the Government Measures Unemployment