Frequently asked questions about our Labor Market Trends data

Q: How could the unemployment rate go down when civilian unemployment goes up?

A: The unemployment rate depends on the number of people in the labor force. In a given month, people in the labor force could change from employed to unemployed, or new people could enter the labor force as “unemployed” as they start searching for a job. It can even be a good sign for the economy when civilian unemployment increases, because it may signal a large influx of people who previously had not been participating in the labor force. If the population that becomes employed increases by even more people, the unemployment rate could still fall.

Q: What does it mean to be “underemployed” and how is it tracked?

A: “Underemployed” is a general term that means a person is working less than they would like to, or in a job that does not maximize their skills and abilities. While this exact concept is not an official term measured by the BLS, they do track “involuntary part-time workers.” Such an individual works fewer than 35 hours per week, wants to work full time, is available to do so, and gave an economic reason for working part-time (their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find a fulltime job). These workers are not included in the most commonly cited unemployment rate (also known as the U-3) but are captured in an alternative measure of labor underutilization (the U-6) and released on a state-wide level.

More information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Q: Why is the change in civilian employment different from the change in nonfarm payroll jobs?

A: Civilian employment is estimated by surveying a sample of individuals and asking about their employment status. Nonfarm jobs data, on the other hand, come directly from employers using the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey. Employers provide monthly employment, hours and earnings information about their employees. People who work but are not connected directly to an employer (self-employed, unpaid family workers, and private household employees) are not included in this count, but would show up in the civilian employment number.

For more information, visit the California Employment Development Department.

Q: Why don’t “civilian employment” and “civilian unemployment” add up to the total number of people in San Diego?

A: “Civilian employment” and “civilian unemployment” are labels given to the two populations that make up the civilian labor force. “Civilian employment” is straightforward; this counts the people who say they have a job. “Unemployment” is a little trickier. Someone is only considered “unemployed” if they have looked for work within the last four weeks and have been unsuccessful. If a person is not working, and not actively looking for work, they are not counted as “unemployed,” and are not part of the labor force. These people could be retired, in school, discouraged or separated from the labor force for other reasons. Because they are not part of the labor force, they are also not counted when calculating the unemployment rate. The civilian labor force (the sum of those categorized as “employed” and “unemployed”) may include anyone 16 and older who is not in the military, prison or some other institution.

More information can be found from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Q: How is the unemployment rate measured each month?

A: The government conducts a monthly survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure unemployment (and other important demographic and economic data) in the country. Each month, highly trained and experienced Census Bureau employees contact 60,000 eligible sample households from all 50 states and Washington, DC and ask about the labor force activities (jobholding and job seeking) or non-labor force status of the members of these households. A sample is not the same as a census, which attempts to survey every household. While the CPS is not as precise as our decennial census, it’s considered quite reliable. The statisticians who administer the CPS use sophisticated sampling and analysis techniques to make adjustments for the seasons and to produce trustworthy unemployment estimates for regions like San Diego County.

Information is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you have any additional questions, please contact us at