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Sept 28 -- The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) asks the OMB Statistical Policy Office to approve continuation of the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) Basic Labor Force data collection, with four added COVID-related questions, and invites public comments to OMB by October 30, 2020. The OMB Statistical Policy Office welcomes comments from AEA members on the value of the COVID-related questions for economic research and analysis.
 
The CPS has been the principal source of the official Government statistics on employment and unemployment for over 75 years. The BLS and the Census Bureau share the responsibility for this survey and submit two separate clearance requests that reflect the way in which the two agencies divide the responsibilities for the analysis and dissemination of the data from the survey. The Census Bureau will be submitting a request for clearance for the collection of the basic demographic information on the population being sampled. BLS is requesting a renewal of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) clearance for the collection of the labor force information that it analyzes and publishes monthly.
 
Starting in May 2020, CPS temporarily added 5 questions to collect data on the effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the attempts to constrain the spread of the illness. These five questions were approved for monthly collection for 180 days under Emergency OMB Clearance Package 1220-0194. These questions ask about responses to the COVID-19 pandemic during the last 4 weeks—specifically, whether respondents teleworked due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were unable to work because an employer closed or lost business, and were paid for hours not worked. A question for people not in the labor force will ask if respondents did not look for work in the last 4 weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A final question, contributed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), asked whether any household members needed non-coronavirus-related medical care in the last 4 weeks but did not get it because of the pandemic.   
 
BLS plans to continue to collect the first four questions. A non-substantive change request will be submitted to remove these questions and the associated respondent burden from the survey when the BLS determines they are no longer relevant to this collection, or to change the questions to focus on labor market issues that have emerged due to the pandemic.

BLS discontinued the collection of the final question after the October collection.  That question asked about needed medical care unrelated to the coronavirus that was not received due to the pandemic. During the cognitive testing—which, in the interest of time, was done after the question had been added to the survey—BLS cognitive testers found this question to be somewhat problematic. Specifically, the question was complicated and the objective of the question was not entirely clear. Therefore, the cognitive testers encouraged NCHS to prioritize their measurement objectives given the limited space that could be allocated to the question and also recommended wording changes. In addition to possible question wording issues, the estimates from the question were considerably lower than those from other surveys that asked similar questions, such as the Household Pulse Survey. This is likely due to the fact that the CPS question is worded a bit differently than in other surveys. Also, the question may have been more salient in other surveys than in the CPS because the other surveys asked health-related questions prior to the question about needed medical care.

BLS monthly labor force statistics from CPS: https://www.bls.gov/cps/   
Proposed COVID questions: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/DownloadDocument?objectID=101783600
Submittal to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202004-1220-009  Click on IC List for survey instrument, View Supporting Statement for narrative on uses, proposed revisions, methods, schedule.  
FR notice: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/28/2020-21301/agency-information-collection-activities-submission-for-omb-review-comment-request-current
 
Point of contact:  Dorinda Allard, Division Chief, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics  (202) 691-6470  Allard.Dorinda@bls.gov
 
For AEA members wishing to provide comments, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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