The Current Population Survey Response to Hurricane Katrina: After Assessing Employee Safety and Operations Hurdles, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau Quickly Began Collecting New Data on Hurricane Evacuees; Jobless Rates Were Sharply Lower for Those Evacuees Who Returned Home Than for Those Who Did Not

By Cahoon, Lawrence S.; Herz, Diane E. et al. | Monthly Labor Review, August 2006 | Go to article overview

The Current Population Survey Response to Hurricane Katrina: After Assessing Employee Safety and Operations Hurdles, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau Quickly Began Collecting New Data on Hurricane Evacuees; Jobless Rates Were Sharply Lower for Those Evacuees Who Returned Home Than for Those Who Did Not


Cahoon, Lawrence S., Herz, Diane E., Ning, Richard C., Polivka, Anne E., Reed, Maria E., Robison, Edwin L., Weyland, Gregory D., Monthly Labor Review


On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, devastating the city of New Orleans and surrounding Louisiana parishes, as well as gulf coast towns in Mississippi. The immediate emergency and the storm's widespread reach and long-lasting devastation presented unprecedented challenges to statistical agencies charged with measuring the economic situation in the affected areas and in the United States as a whole. At the time of the storm, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau were discussing a proposed disaster estimation strategy for the Current Population Survey (CPS) program, the U.S. national labor force survey. However, no formal plan was in place for dealing with such a situation when Katrina struck the coast.

At news of the storm's approach, representatives from the two agencies, which cosponsor the monthly survey of approximately 60,000 occupied housing units, began meeting to discuss how different scenarios might affect operations and estimation. After landfall, when the severity of the damage became clearer, the two Bureaus met several times daily and worked between meetings to locate and support staff in the affected areas, assess problems with operations, and determine how to proceed with estimation and data dissemination. This article discusses the impact of Hurricane Katrina on CPS field staff, data collection operations, and estimation. Also described is a special set of questions added to the survey to measure the labor force status of Hurricane Katrina evacuees. The article concludes with lessons learned.

Overview of the CPS

The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 occupied housing units that is used to produce timely statistics on the U.S. labor force, including the national unemployment rate, a major economic indicator. (1) CPS data also are used in conjunction with data from other BLS surveys to develop employment and unemployment statistics for the 50 States and the District of Columbia. (2) Each month, approximately 72,000 addresses across the country are selected for inclusion in the survey. Sample households are chosen in every State; however, the sampling rate (number of households selected per population) varies across States. Information on eligible households is kept in a database (the Master Address File) that is constructed on the basis of the most recent (2000) census and is updated with information from administrative sources, such as new-building permits. Nonresidential units, such as hotels, and permanent or temporary shelters (including schools and places of worship) are not in the CPS sample.

Each month, demographic data are collected on all household respondents and employment status information is collected on the civilian noninstitutional population aged 15 years and older. The reference week for determining respondents' employment status is the week that includes the 12th of the month. Interviewing is conducted during the week that contains the 19th of the month. (See exhibit 1.) Through this process, each person in the household aged 15 years and older is classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force. (3)

Once selected for inclusion, households are in the survey for 8 months in a "4-8-4" pattern. (Households are interviewed for 4 consecutive months, are not contacted for the next 8 months, and then are interviewed for 4 more months.) Typically, the first and fifth interviews are conducted by personal visit; most of the other interviews are done by telephone through a computer-assisted telephone interview conducted from field representatives' homes or a centralized Census call center. The CPS does not "follow" persons who move out of a sampled housing unit; rather, individuals living at the address at the time of the interview are included in the survey.

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. As shown in exhibit 1, it landed well after the August 2005 collection week and several weeks before the September 2005 survey reference period. …

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The Current Population Survey Response to Hurricane Katrina: After Assessing Employee Safety and Operations Hurdles, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau Quickly Began Collecting New Data on Hurricane Evacuees; Jobless Rates Were Sharply Lower for Those Evacuees Who Returned Home Than for Those Who Did Not
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