Codes and Frequencies
EMPSTAT reports whether sample adults were working last week--working for pay; temporarily absent due to illness, vacation, family or maternity leave, or another reason; performing seasonal or contract work; or working at a job or business but NOT for pay (WHYNOWK2). Responses of "no" include both sample adults who were part of the labor force but unemployed and sample adults who were out of the labor force. Additional detail about reasons for not working in the past week can be found in WHYNOWK2. Before 2019, EMPSTAT reports whether persons were part of the labor force--working or seeking work--and, if so, whether they worked, had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent, or were looking for work or on layoff during the preceding two weeks (for 1969-1996) or during the preceding week (for 1997-2018).
In 1969-1996, EMPSTAT is a summary recode of responses to a series of questions.
In 1969-1973 interviewers first asked, "Did [person] work at any time last week or the week before - (For females): not counting work around the house?" This question was also asked in 1974-1981, but the wording in these years omitted the instructions "For females" before the phrase "not counting work around the house." In 1982-1996 the question wording was changed to, "During those 2 weeks, did [person] work at any time at a job or business, not counting work around the house? (Include unpaid work in the family farm/business.)
If the answer to the initial question asked in 1969-1996 was negative, interviewers asked whether the person had a job or business, even though he/she did not work during the reference period. The final questions used to categorize current employment status in 1969-1996 were, "Was he looking for work or on layoff from a job [during those 2 weeks]?" and, if yes, "Which--looking for work or on layoff from a job?"
In 1997-2018, respondents were asked one general question to ascertain their employment status.
Interviewers asked, "Which of the following was [person] doing last week?" In 1997-2000 interviewers read the following possible responses: "Working at a job or business," "With a job or business but not at work," "Looking for work," and "Not working at a job or business." Beginning in 2001, the response category "Working at a job or business" was split into two separate categories, "Working for pay at a job or business" and "Working, but not for pay, at a job or business." The rest of the response categories in 2001-2018 are the same as in 1997-2000.
In 2019 forward, EMPSTAT only indicates whether someone was employed or not employed in the last week.
Respondents are asked a series of questions that are used to code a final response to EMPSTAT:
- "LAST WEEK, did you work for pay at a job or business?"
- "Did you have a job or business LAST WEEK, but were temporarily absent due to illness, vacation, family or maternity leave, or some other reason?"
- "What is the MAIN reason you were not working for pay at a job or business last week?"
- "Does [sample adult] work for pay at a job or business?"
NCHS uses these responses to code an individual as "Employed" or "Not employed" in EMPSTAT. Those who indicate they were performing seasonal or contract work or were working at a job or business but not for pay are coded as "Employed." In 2021, only seasonal or contract workers who also worked in the past 12 months are coded as "Employed."
The Field Representative's Manuals for 1969-1981 stated that "work" included "paid work as an employee for someone else for wages, salary, commission, or pay 'in kind' (meals, living quarters, or supplies provided in place of cash wages)." The Manuals also instructed interviewers to include work in the person's own business, professional practice or farm and work without pay in a business or farm (or, beginning in 1980, a professional practice) run by a "relative" (1969-1970) or a "related household member" (1971-1981).
The Manuals instructed interviewers to exclude work around the house and volunteer or unpaid work. In 1971-1979 and 1981, interviewers were also instructed to exclude service in the Armed Forces. In 1980, however, interviewers were specifically instructed to include service in the Armed Forces as work.
According to the 1969-1981 Manuals, persons were to be counted as having worked if they worked at any time during the reference period, "even for an hour."
The Manuals for 1982 forward included more detailed inclusion and exclusion criteria for what was to be counted as work. The types of activities included and excluded as work varied across different time periods, and several activities included as work in some years were excluded in other years (e.g., serving on jury duty). According to the Manuals, the following activities were to be included as work:
- Working for pay (wages, salary, commission, piecework rates, tips, "pay-in-kind" such as meals, living quarters, or supplies provided in place of cash wages)
- Working for profit or fees in one's own business, professional practice, partnership, or farm even though the effort may produce a financial loss
- Working without pay in a business or farm operated by a related household member.
- Working as a civilian employee of the National Guard or Department of Defense.
- Participating in "exchange work" or "share work" on a farm.
- Serving on jury duty.
- Participating in a government sponsored work program such as Public Employment Program (PEP), Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Foster Grandparent Program, Work Incentive Program (WIN), etc.
- Working as a military or civilian employee of the National Guard or Department of Defense.
- At least 15 hours of work per week without pay in a business or farm operated by a related household member.
The Manuals instructed interviewers to exclude the following activities as work:
- Unpaid work which does not contribute to the operation of a family business or farm (e.g., home housework)
- Unpaid work for a related household member who is a salaried employee and does not operate a farm or business (e.g., typing for a husband who is a lawyer for a corporation)
- Unpaid work for an unrelated household member or for a relative who is not a household member
- Volunteer or other unpaid work for a church, charity, political candidate, club, or other organization, such as the Red Cross, Community Fund, etc.
- Owning a business solely as an investment to which no contribution is made to the management or actual operation (e.g., owning a grocery store which someone else manages and operates)
- Service in the Armed Forces, including time while on temporary duty with the National Guard or Reserves
- Serving on jury duty
- Participating in a government sponsored program such as Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) if it involves only training in a school or other institutional setting, and does not include on-the-job training (if it includes a combination of on-the-job training and classroom training, consider the person as working; count only the time spent on the job as working).
- Unpaid internships.
As in earlier years, the Manuals for 1982-1996 instructed interviewers to count persons as having worked if they worked at any time during the reference period, "even for an hour."
The 1969-1981 Field Representative's Manuals define a job as "when [a person] has a definite arrangement with one or more employers to work for pay (full-time or part-time)." The Manuals also provide instructions for seasonal jobs and persons "on call." The 1969 Manual reads:
- Seasonal employment is considered a job only during the season and not during the off-season.
- A person "on call" to work only when his services are needed is not considered to have a job during weeks when he does not work.
The Manuals for 1970-1981 include similarly worded instructions for "seasonal employment" and "persons 'on call'."
The definition for "job" and instructions for "seasonal employment," and "persons 'on call'" included in the Field Representative's Manuals for 1982 forward are similar to those included in earlier years. The 1982 forward Manuals add, "A formal, definite arrangement with one or more employers to work a specified number of hours per week or days per month, but on an irregular schedule during the week or month, is also considered a job."
The Manuals also included the following additional instructions:
- Consider school personnel (teachers, administrators, custodians, etc.) who have a definite arrangement, either written or oral, to return to work in the fall as having a "job" even though they may be on summer vacation.
- Consider persons who have definite arrangements to receive pay while on leave of absence from their regular jobs to attend school, travel, etc., as having a "job." This may be referred to as "sabbatical leave." Probe to determine if the person is receiving pay if this is not volunteered.
- Do not consider a person who did not work at an unpaid job on a family farm or in a family business during the past 2 weeks as having a "job."
- Do not consider persons who do not have a definite job to which they can return as having a "job." For example, do not consider a person to have a job if his/her job has been phased out or abolished, or if the company has closed down operations.
The Field Representative's Manuals for 1969-1970 and 1974-1981 provide the following definition for business:
- Maintains an office, store, or other place of business.
- Uses machinery or equipment in which he has invested money for profit.
- Advertises his business or profession.
The Manuals for 1969-1970 also stated, "Casual workers who work for themselves such as itinerant handymen or other odd job workers are not considered to have a business during weeks when they do not work."
No definition for business was included in the Manuals for 1971-1973.
The definition for business included in the Field Representative's Manuals for 1982 forward was similar to that included in 1974-1981, with the following instructions added:
- Consider the selling of newspapers, cosmetics, and the like as a business if the person buys the newspapers, magazines, cosmetics, etc., directly from the publisher, manufacturer, or distributor, sells them to the consumer, and bears any losses resulting from failure to collect from the consumer. Otherwise, consider it as working for pay (job) rather than a business.
- Do not consider domestic work in other persons' homes, casual work such as that performed by a craft worker or odd-job carpenter or plumber as a business. This is considered as wage work. Whether or not the person is considered as having a job is described in [the definition for work].
- Do not consider the sale of personal property as a business.
- For questionable or borderline cases, do not consider the persons as having their own business. Refer to [the definition for job] to determine whether the person is considered as having a job.
As noted above, prior to 1997, respondents who did not report having worked during the reference period received a follow-up question that asked whether they had a job or business, even though they did not work during the reference period. For this question, the Field Representative's Manual for 1969-1979 instructed interviewers
The 1980-1981 Manuals included similarly worded instructions that also instructed interviewers to "consider school personnel (teachers, administrators, custodians, etc.) who have a definite arrangement, either written or oral, to return to work next fall as having a 'job,' even though they may be on summer vacation."
As in earlier years, the Field Representative's Manuals for 1982-1996 instructed interviewers to consider as having a job or business persons who were temporarily absent but who expected to return to their job or business when the event ended.
The Manuals for 1982-1996 instructed interviewers not to consider persons to have a job if they were waiting to begin a new job. However, if the person was waiting to being his or her own business, professional practice, or farm, interviewers were to count the person as having a job or business if he or she spent any time during the reference period making or completing arrangements for the opening.
Persons on maternity/paternity leave were to be considered as having a job if they intended to return to work and the employer had agreed to hold the job or find him/her a place when he/she returned. Persons on layoff were not to be considered as having a job.
The 1982-1986 Manuals also provided the following general guidelines for how to determine employment status for enrollees in government-sponsored work and training programs:
- Consider the person as working if he/she receives any pay for the work or on-the-job training.
- Do not consider the person as working or with a job if he/she receives training at schools or other institutional settings.
- Do not consider the person as working or with a job if he/she receives welfare or public assistance while participating in work programs as a condition for receiving the welfare (work relief) or participating voluntarily.
Beginning in 1987, these guidelines were changed so that persons who received welfare or public assistance while participating in work programs as a condition for receiving the welfare (work relief) or participating voluntarily were considered as working or with a job.
The 1969-1981 Field Representative's Manuals provided the following definitions for "Looking for Work" and "On Layoff":
Looking for work refers to any effort to get a job or to establish a business or profession. A person was looking for work if he actually tried to find work during the past two weeks and also if he made such efforts previously (i.e., within the past 60 days) and was waiting during the past two weeks to hear the results of these earlier efforts.
Some examples of looking for work are: registering at an employment office; visiting, telephoning, or writing applications to prospective employers; placing or answering advertisements for a job; and being 'on call' at a personnel office or at a union hiring hall, etc.
A person is said to be on layoff if he is waiting to be called back to a job from which he has been temporarily laid off or furloughed. Layoffs can be due to slack work, plant retooling or remodeling, seasonal factors, and the like. If a person was not working because of a labor dispute at his own place of employment, he is not to be considered 'on layoff' but with a job from which he is absent.
The 1982-1996 Field Representative's Manuals provided the following definition for "Looking for Work":
Any effort to get a job or to establish a business or profession. A person was looking for work if he/she actually tried to find work during the past 2 weeks. Some examples of looking for work are:
- Registering at a public or private employment office.
- Meeting with or telephoning prospective employers.
- Placing or answering advertisements (NOTE: simply reading want-ads does not qualify as looking for work).
- Writing letters of application.
- Visiting locations where prospective employers pick up temporary help.
Also, consider persons "on call" at a personnel office, union hiring hall, professional register, etc., as looking for work.
The definition for "On Layoff" included in the 1982-1996 Manuals was similar to that included in earlier years.
The 1982-1996 Manuals provided additional instructions concerning who should be counted as looking for work or on layoff in "special situations." These instructions are summarized below:
- Some establishments go through a retooling operation before new models come out (e.g., automobile and boat manufacturers). Consider persons "on layoff" if they did not work during the reference period for this reason.
- Persons who were on vacation during a retooling operation/plant shutdown are not to be considered "on layoff."
- Do not consider school personnel to be on layoff during the summer if they have a definite agreement to return to work in the fall, unless the person was laid off from a summer job or was looking for work.
- Do not consider as on layoff, a person who is on strike, is locked out, or does not wish to cross a picket line, even though he/she is not a member of the group on strike. This applies only when the labor dispute is at the person's place of employment. If a person has been laid off because of a shortage of materials or slack work resulting from a strike in another plant and is not on strike him/herself, consider them as on layoff.
- Persons who are waiting to begin a new job within 30 days of the interview and were not on layoff during the reference period are considered "looking for work."
- Persons are waiting to begin a job within 30 days but who were on layoff during the reference period are considered both "looking for work" and "on layoff."
- Persons who are waiting to begin a new job within 31+ days of the interview are asked whether they were temporarily absent, on layoff, or looking for work during the reference period. Persons who answer "on layoff" and/or "looking for a job" are counted as such; persons who answer "temporarily absent" are not counted as "on layoff" or "looking for work."
- Persons who are waiting to begin a new job within 31+ days of the interview and who were not temporarily absent or on layoff from a job or were not looking for work are not considered "looking for work" or "on layoff."
In 1984 the following special situation was added:
- If a person has more than one job and was absent from both jobs for different reasons, [consider as "looking for work" or "on layoff] if he/she was on layoff from either job or was looking for work regardless of the reason absent from either job.
The Field Representative's Manuals for 1997-2000 provided the following definition for "looking for work":
- Filled out applications or sent out resumes
- Placed or answered classified ads
- Checked union/professional registers
- Bid on a contract or auditioned for a part in a play
- Contacted friends or relatives about possible jobs
- Contacted school/college university employment office
- Contacted employment directly
Job search methods that are not active include:
- Looked at ads without responding to them
- Picked up a job application without filling it out
The Manuals for 2001 forward provide a similarly worded definition for "looking for work."
The first digit of the coding system for EMPSTAT groups all adults (age 17+ in 1969-1981, age 18+ in 1982 forward) into one of four main categories: employed, with a job but not at work, unemployed, and not in the labor force. These categories correspond to main employment status categories recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and are used in other sources such as the Current Population Survey and the U.S. census. The second digit supplies additional detail, such as whether the person was looking for work versus being on lay-off, was working for pay or without pay, or straddled two categories, such as simultaneously having a job from which they were absent and looking for work.
Changes in universe and in question wording and format and the 2019 questionnaire redesign limit the comparability of EMPSTAT over time.
As noted in the variable description, the reference period for EMPSTAT changes from the preceding two weeks in 1969-1996 to the preceding week in 1997 forward. Also, in 1969-1996, employment status was ascertained through several different questions, whereas in 1997 forward, only one general question was asked.
The instructions and definitions included in the Field Representative's Manual concerning the employment status question(s) varied across time, which also limits the comparability of EMPSTAT.
Users should note, however, that the information included in the Manuals was not routinely shared with respondents.
Another comparability issue with EMPSTAT concerns the inclusion of employment status questions for sample adults beginning in 1997.
In all years, the question associated with EMPSTAT was asked of a respondent representing the family (a proxy), who could answer this question for other adult family members. In 1997 forward, a question similar to the one associated with EMPSTAT was asked of sample adults who answered the question themselves, except in rare cases where disability precluded self-reporting. NCHS compared the answers given by proxy respondents to the self-reported answers, and in cases where there were inconsistencies, the data for EMPSTAT was edited to reflect the self-reported answer. Because self-reporting is likely to be more accurate than proxy reporting, researchers should exercise caution when comparing results between 1969-1996 and 1997 forward. In 1997 forward, researchers may also wish to identify proxy-reported versus self-reported responses to EMPSTAT using the variable ASTATFLG (Sample adult respondent flag).
The 2019 questionnaire redesign impacts comparability between earlier years and 2019 forward, especially in respect to the amount of detail available in the response categories. The NHIS questionnaire was substantially redesigned in 2019 to introduce a different data collection structure and new content. For more information on changes in terminology, universes, and data collection methods beginning in 2019, please see the user note.
Finally, there was a slight change in coding between 2020 and 2021. In 2020, all seasonal or contract workers were classified as "Employed" but in 2021, seasonal or contract workers also had to have worked in the past 12 months to be classified as "Employed."
- 1963-1981: Persons age 17+.
- 1982-2018: Persons age 18+.
- 2019-2022: Sample adults age 18+.