Counts of people receiving unemployment insurance benefits differ from counts of unemployed individuals measured in surveys of households.  These two measures of unemployment offer distinct, but related indicators, of trends in joblessness in the U.S.

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains in its Commissioner's Corner blog, "the two measures track each other very closely," but they are not the same count.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits Claims

The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) publishes weekly counts of UI claims filed by individuals. The UI claims data include both:

  • Initial claims, and
  • Continued claims.

Survey Data and the Unemployment Rate

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data is produced by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

Sources of LAUS data are statistics from two monthly programs, one of which is the civilian labor force and unemployment data based largely on a survey of households.  

The Current Population Survey (CPS) contacts households once a month to ask questions about their status during the week containing the 12th of the month.

The monthly labor market survey counts people as "unemployed" during that week, if they meet all of these conditions:

  • They are not employed;
  • They could have taken a job, if one had been offered; and
  • They had made at least one specific, active effort to find employment in the last four (4) weeks OR were on a temporary layoff.

People counted in the survey as unemployed may, or may not, file UI benefits claims, and if they do, they may or may not be eligible for UI benefits.


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UI Continued Claims versus Job Losers

The BLS survey collects more detail about the characteristics of people who are unemployed. One characteristic is the reason for a person’s unemployment.

  • Some people are labor force entrants or reentrants, if they did not have a job immediately before starting their job search.
  • Others quit or leave their job voluntarily, and are job leavers.
  • The rest become unemployed by losing their job in one of the following ways:
    • Being permanently laid off
    • Being temporarily laid off
    • Completing a temporary job

People who become unemployed after losing their jobs are job losers. Job losers are more likely to be eligible for UI benefits, so their counts most closely match the UI claims count.

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