The U.S. unemployment figures that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases every month are based on a monthly survey of 60,000 households nationwide. An individual is considered to be employed if he or she reports that they worked “at least one hour for pay” during the reference week that includes the week of the 12th of each month. An individual is considered to be unemployed if he or she did not work at least one hour for pay during the survey reference week, was available to work, and actively sought work in the four weeks prior to the survey interview. If an individual did not work for pay and was either unavailable to work or did not actively seek week during the prior four weeks, he or she is considered to be not in the labor force and not counted as employed or unemployed. The labor force is defined as the sum of employed and unemployed individuals, and the unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by the number of people in the labor force. In other words, whether or not an individual in your situation would be counted as unemployed depends on whether you are actively seeking work but can’t find employment instead of whether your benefits have expired.
California’s employment and unemployment numbers are also survey-based and calculated in much the same manner. However, because the State’s sample of households is relatively small (about 5,500 households) the survey-based estimates tend to be quite variable. To help stabilize some of this variability, the California labor force model incorporates monthly jobs and unemployment claims data in order to supplement the household survey data.
Please note that the BLS and California routinely publish more detailed about unemployment information than just number and rate. This includes data on the duration of unemployment which is broken into the following categories: less than 5 weeks, 5 to 14 weeks, 15 to 26 weeks, and 27 weeks or over. In other words, data are available by which to track trends in long term unemployment.
Finally, it should be noted that there are a variety of reasons why individuals become classified as “not in the labor force”. In addition to those individuals who want to work but are no longer actively seeking work, those who are not in the labor force include full-time students, retirees on fixed incomes, individuals who stay at home to care for children or other family members, and individuals who are physically unable to work. The BLS publishes what it calls “alternative measures of labor utilization” for the U.S. in which it attempts to estimate the number of “marginally attached workers”, defined as workers who are “neither working nor looking for work but indicate that want and are available for work and have looked in the recent past”. However, this is a category of workers that is quite difficult to define and measure, and these data are rarely reported in the media. They are available, however, and can be found by following this link: www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t12.htm.