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U.S. Economy

Real-Time Population Survey (RPS)

March 19, 2021

Employment Rate Rises Sharply in Mid-March

  • The employment rate for working-age adults (18–64) was 70.9 percent in the RPS for the week of March 14–20, up sharply from the estimate of 68.6 percent for the week of Feb. 7–13.
  • The previous RPS employment rate of 68.6 percent was below the most recent Current Population Survey (CPS) estimate of 70.2 percent for working-age adults (18–64). The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which draws on the CPS for its unemployment rate report, continued to report that some individuals “with a job but absent from work because of the coronavirus” were misclassified as employed during the CPS interviewing process.

    In contrast, the RPS did not record an unusually high number of persons not at work, suggesting that the same misclassification did not occur in the RPS. Reclassifying the individuals absent from work in the CPS survey leads to an adjusted employment rate among working-age adults of 69.8 percent for the week of Feb. 7–13.

Chart 1

Downloadable chart | Chart data

Unemployment Rate Decreases Notably

  • The unemployment rate in the RPS was 9.4 percent for March 14–20, a substantial decrease relative to the estimate of 11.5 percent for Feb. 7–13.
  • The previous unemployment rate of 11.5 percent in the RPS exceeded the official CPS estimate of 6.7 percent for working-age adults (18–64) and is also above the alternate estimate of 7.1 percent after reclassifying those "absent from work because of the coronavirus" as unemployed.

Chart 2

Downloadable chart | Chart data

Labor Force Participation Increases

  • The labor force participation rate was 78.2 percent in the RPS for March14–20, an increase relative to the estimate of 77.6 percent for Feb. 7–13.
  • The previous RPS estimate of the participation rate was 77.6 percent, compared with an estimate of 75.2 percent in the CPS.

Chart 3

Downloadable chart | Chart data

The March 19 release is the final one for this series.
RPS Authors

The RPS was developed by Alexander Bick, an associate professor at WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University; Adam Blandin, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Virginia Commonwealth University; in collaboration with Karel Mertens, a senior economic policy advisor in the Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.