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Featuring the CES

by Nick Dobbins
May 2015

The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program is a national monthly survey that estimates employment, hours, and earnings. The estimates are created by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in cooperation with state Labor Market Information offices. The most often cited estimate produced by the CES is monthly employment, which is provided for all nonfarm jobs and broken down by industry group. Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted estimates are published for the entire country and each state. In addition, unadjusted estimates are provided for metropolitan statistical areas, including each of the eight MSAs in Minnesota. We are also able to create seasonally adjusted estimates for some series in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MSA, which we do independently of BLS.

Estimates are created from a monthly survey of approximately 143,000 employers covering 588,000 worksites and from historical Quarterly Census of Employment and Wage (QCEW) data. The Minnesota sample consists of approximately 2,400 employers and roughly 9,000 worksites. Survey results are combined with historical trends to produce monthly estimates. The first estimates, which are generally the most widely publicized, are actually preliminary. A more complete 'final' estimate is produced a month later, although this is not the ultimate estimate for a given month either. At the end of each year, previously produced estimates are matched to QCEW data, providing a nearly complete census of all employment, using a process referred to as benchmarking. This annual process is necessary because QCEW data are only available on a six month lag. Benchmarking allows us to check published estimates thoroughly against the census, while also providing a robust foundation for the estimates that will be produced in the future. However, while the CES is tied to QCEW data, the programs have slightly different gaps in their coverages, so the two will never completely match.

National CES estimates are generally published on the first Friday of every month. For reasons related to how the data are collected, the release is actually the third Friday following the conclusion of the week which includes the 12th of the month, although that isn't quite as easy to remember. Minnesota's state estimates are released two Thursdays after the national data. Because estimates for a given month are produced so quickly, the CES has become a popular tool for the media, businesses, and others with an interest in tracking the labor market in as close to as real time as is possible. While the CES is eminently useful for the timely estimates it provides, it is worth remembering that the final estimates for a given month may change dramatically after the benchmarking process. For instance, total nonfarm employment estimates in Minnesota for March 2014 changed by 17,120, or 0.62 percent, after benchmarking.

Besides being a timely employment estimate for many consumers, CES data is also used as an input for the monthly unemployment rate, which is produced by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. There is a thorough examination of this program in this month's Review feature.

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