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THE LABOUR FORCE SURVEY
Table 1: Quickstats – The Labour Force Survey
Each month, The LFS collects data on the labour force activity of persons around 52,000 people in 26,000 households. The information is collected through a household sample survey conducted by trained interviewers either face-to-face or over the phone, or via online self-completion form. The survey is detailed, including around 70 questions.
The scope of the LFS is limited to the usually resident civilian population of Australia, aged 15 years and over. As such, the survey includes residents who are temporarily overseas (less than 6 weeks), but excludes members of the permanent defence forces. The ABS then weights the people in the survey sample to the most recent population figures, to provide a representative picture of the whole population.
In addition to data on employment and unemployment, the LFS also collects information on underutilisation, hours worked, job searching and retrenchments, as well as socio-demographic characteristics.
The LFS sample can be thought of as comprising eight sub-samples (or rotation groups), with each subsample remaining in the survey for eight months. A new rotation group is introduced each month to replace an outgoing rotation group, generally from the same geographic area.
Sample rotation enables reliable measures of monthly change in labour force statistics to be compiled, while ensuring the sample reflects changes in the household population.
Figure 1: Sample Rotation
USING LABOUR FORCE DATA
Data collected regularly over time may display seasonal and irregular patterns. This raw data, known as the original series, can be very volatile, making it difficult to identify underlying trends. The ABS therefore publishes two additional data series to aid time-series analysis: seasonally adjusted and trend data in addition to the original (unadjusted) survey estimates.
Trend data helps to determine the underlying path of the series, by smoothing out any irregularities. It is calculated as a 13 month moving average, using data from 6 months prior to and following the reference period.
Seasonally adjusted data has been modified to remove any patterns caused by regularly repeating cycles in the real world, such as the Christmas period, harvesting season, and school holidays. This series aids in short-term forecasting and allows series to be compared between periods; however, can still be volatile.
Graph 1: Trend and seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, Dec 2016 to Dec 2017
As the LFS is a sample survey, the data are subject to sampling and non-sampling error. The ABS takes data quality seriously and makes every effort to minimise error where possible, achieving a response rate of 93%. While the sample is designed to ensure sampling error is as low as possible at the national and state/territory level, it can be higher for labour force regions or for detailed population breakdowns.
Determining the reliability of an estimate
The ABS publishes all information required to calculate standard errors, relative standard errors (RSE), and confidence intervals. For quick reference, the ABS also annotates published estimates where the reliability is low. Specifically, estimates are annotated if they:
KEY LABOUR FORCE CONCEPTS
Employed persons are defined as all persons aged 15 years and over whom during the reference week:
People are considered to be employed full-time if they worked, or usually work, 35 or more hours per week, including people who worked a total of 35 hours or more in two or more part-time jobs.
Unemployed persons are defined as persons aged 15 years and over who were not employed during the reference week, and were either actively looking for work, or were waiting to start a new job. Importantly, unemployed persons must be available to work during the reference week if a job had been available to them.
Persons Not In The Labour Force (NILF)
Persons not in the labour force are defined as persons aged 15 years and over who were neither employed nor unemployed. Included in this group are people who are retired, studying, performing home duties or caring for children, or unable to participate in the labour force due to an illness, injury or disability.
Figure 2: The Labour Force Framework
Table 2: Key Labour Force Measures
The ABS also publishes a range of measures to supplement the key labour force concepts. These include:
For more information see Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, Feb 2018 (cat. no. 6102.0.55.001).
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