Universe Definition for WNLOOK in CPS

Hi,

I just have a question about the universe for the CPS variable WNLOOK. It currently reads “Persons 15+ who are unemployed and have not looked for work within the past 4 weeks.” To be considered unemployed, I believe you have to have looked for work in the past 4 weeks, so the above definition seems impossible (or would include 0 people). When WNLOOK is cross tabbed with EMPSTAT, only people not in the labor force are something other than 999 for 2016 and 2017 monthly Wisconsin data.

Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

Thanks,

Tom

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It sounds like there may be some confusion between the concepts of “not in the labor force” and “unemployed”. Employment status indicates whether or not an individual was working or not. (More information about the employment status definition can be found in the EMPSTAT variable description.) To be in the labor force, one does not have to be employed, they must however be seeking work if unemployed. This is why when the two conditions (unemployed + not looking for work) of the universe statement in WNLOOK are put together only individuals who are not in the labor force respond to this question.

To follow up on this and clarify, the formal BLS definition of unemployment is someone who does not have a job, but has looked for one in the past four weeks.

Then, does the defined universe for WNLOOK, “Persons 15+ who are unemployed and have not looked for work within the past 4 weeks,” use “unemployed” loosely to mean someone who does not have a job?

Yes, you are correct that the official definition for “unemployed” are individuals who are looking for work but are not currently working. This official definition differs somewhat to a more colloquial use of the word which typically just means “not employed.” A more specific universe statement for WNLOOK reads: Persons 15+ who are not working and have not looked for work within the past 4 weeks.

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Thanks Jeff for that clarification. It sounds then like anyone who is 15+ and not in the labor force should be asked this question.

However, in using the 2018 basic monthlies, when I cross tab WNLOOK and LABFORCE for the 16+ civilian population (see screenshot below) I make several observations:

  • No one who identified as EMPSTAT== 32 is in the WNLOOK universe.
  • A large portion of the sample that identified as EMPSTAT== 34 or EMPSTAT== 36 are not in the WNLOOK universe.

This leads me to two questions:

  1. Why are there people in EMPSTAT== 34 and EMPSTAT== 36 who are not in the WNLOOK universe, if by definition of being NILF they do not have a job and did not look for work in the past 4 weeks?
  2. Would a further restriction on the WNLOOK universe such as “Persons 15+ who are not working, able to work, and have not looked for work within the past 4 weeks.” be appropriate?

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With respect to question 1, is it possible that a further restriction on the WNLOOK universe is whether or not the respondent wants a job, based on the description of the WNLOOK variable?

Yes, you are correct. The important detail here is that the WNLOOK variable identifies the main reason persons who want a job are not looking for work during the previous four weeks. Therefore, those with NIU values do not want a job. I’ll send a note to the IPUMS CPS Team to update the universe statement to account for this ambiguity in the documentation.

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