Labour force status (LFSP)

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Census of Population and Housing: Census dictionary
Reference period


This variable records a person’s labour force status for the week prior to Census Night.


Persons aged 15 years and over


1Employed, worked full-time
2Employed, worked part-time
3Employed, away from work
4Unemployed, looking for full-time work
5Unemployed, looking for part-time work
6Not in the labour force
&Not stated
@Not applicable
VOverseas visitor

Number of categories:  9

Not applicable (@) category comprises:

  • Persons aged under 15 years

'Employed, away from work' also includes persons who stated they worked but who did not state the number of hours worked.

'Full-time' work means 35 hours or more per week in all jobs.

'Part-time' work means less than 35 hours per week in all jobs. 

See Understanding supplementary codes for more information.

Question(s) from the Census form

Last week, did the person have a job of any kind?

In the main job held last week, was the person: Working for an employer; Working in own business?

Last week, how many hours did the person work in all jobs?

Did the person actively look for work at any time in the last four weeks?

If the person had found a job, could the person have started work last week?

How this variable is created

Labour force status (LFSP) is derived using responses to questions on:

  • full/part-time job
  • job last week
  • hours worked
  • looking for work and
  • availability to start work

The derivation method takes into account answers to these questions to derive the most appropriate Labour force status. Occupation information may sometimes be used.

History and changes

Questions relating to labour force status were first asked in the 1911 Census. Response categories were revised in 2006 to align more closely with ABS labour force concepts.

Minor changes were made in 2016 to two of the five questions that contribute to the Labour force status variable. Minor changes were also made to the instructions on the online Census form.

For 2021, an instruction was added to the online form to provide guidance to people in COVID-19 affected areas on Census day. Additional instructions were also added to the Census website – see Data use considerations below for more details.

Data use considerations

The non-response rate for Labour force status (LFSP) was 5.8% in 2021. This is a decrease from 6.7% in 2016.


A number of regions across the country were in various stages of lockdown on Census day, and the week preceding it, resulting in a greater number of people being temporarily stood down on Census day. Guidance on how to correctly respond to the employment question was provided at the time on the Census website, as follows: 

'If you were employed in the four weeks prior to the current lockdown period, but haven't been able to work in the last week due to lockdown or requirement to self-isolate, please select 'Yes, but absent on holidays, on paid leave, on strike or temporarily stood down'.

Those who were not working four weeks prior to the lockdown were asked to select 'No, did not have a job'. People who responded 'No, did not have a job' are not considered to be ‘employed’ and will instead be either ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’, depending on their responses to other questions. This is regardless of whether they still have an attachment to their job during lockdown. People can be ‘unemployed’ or ‘not in the labour force’ while receiving the COVID-19 Disaster Payment or the JobSeeker Payment. To be categorised as ‘unemployed’ people must have not worked, be actively looking for work and available to start work. During lockdowns many people leaving employment will also leave the labour force entirely, given the challenges in actively look for work and being available for work.

Community Development Program

People participating only in the Community Development Program are not considered to be employed for the Census. They are considered unemployed or not in the labour force, depending on their job search activities and availability. For further information see Community Development Program participation (CDPP).

Comparing Census with ABS Labour Force Survey

The Census and Labour Force Survey both collect information about the labour market activity of people aged 15 years and over. While both collections seek to measure the concepts related to employment, unemployment and being outside of the labour force, there are a number of differences between them that should be considered in the use of the data. A summary of the differences between these collections is available in Comparing the 2021 Census and the Labour Force Survey.

Related variables and glossary terms

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