Assessment of Major Federal Data Sets for Analyses of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander Subgroups and Native Americans: Inventory of Selected Existing Federal Databases. Current Population Survey (CPS)



Sponsoring agency

Bureau of the Census
Department of Commerce


Reference date

March 1998
Average Month 1998


The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey conducted since 1942 by the Bureau of the Census to produce the official government statistics on the Nation's employment and unemployment. At the present time, some 48,000 households are interviewed. As part of the inquiry, extensive demographic detail is collected about those interviewed, including age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, educational attainment, and marital status. In addition, from time to time, supplementary questions are added to the survey to provide a wide variety of national information on such subjects as school enrollment, multiple job holding, immunization status, fertility, voting behavior, and computer ownership. In March of each year, the survey includes the questions found in the decennial long-form, such as income, work experience, and mobility, in order to provide post-censal updates for the socio-economic detail. The CPS has included questions on Hispanic origin since the early 1970's and, thus, serves to provide historical series for this group; information for subgroups is a more recent occurrence.


Race and Hispanic origin are obtained for each person in the sample. The following series of questions is used currently (November 1999):

I am going to read a list of race categories: What is the race of each person in this household?

(If respondent seems unsure or is unable to provide an answer), ask,

Are you (Is he/she) White, Black, American Indian, Aleut or Eskimo, Asian or Pacific Islander, or something else?

I am going to read a list of origin categories: What is (name's/your) origin or descent?

The response categories are listed on flashcards which are handed to the respondent when appropriate. The Race flashcard entry for Asian or Pacific Islander displays parenthetically a number of subgroups (Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Hawaiian, Guamanian, Samoan, other Asian) to assist the respondent, but these groups are not recorded. The Origin or Descent flashcard lists a number of the discrete Hispanic subgroups and (Mexican-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central or South American). Subgroups for the Asian or Pacific Islanders are not listed on the Origin or Descent flashcard. The detail on the flashcards for Hispanics appears on the tape files, including the Public Use files.

In connection with the extended March supplement, persons identified as Asian or Pacific Islanders are further classified into subgroups (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Guamanian, Hawaiian); at the moment, these results appear only on internal records.

Interviewing policy

Census Bureau has long experience in interviewing non-English speaking respondents. Since a large proportion of CPS interviews use a Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing system (CATI), the Bureau has located one of its telephone centers in Tucson, AZ, to take advantage of its large Spanish speaking population. In areas containing large numbers of non-English speaking respondents, the Bureau generally attempts to locate, hire, and train members of the group who are bilingual, and they are assigned as needed. Where a bilingual interviewer is not available, the interviewer attempts to locate another member of the family who is bilingual to assist in the interview, or arranges to call back when a translator can be obtained.

Since the CPS is a "computer based" survey, it is not available in other languages in paper form, although a Spanish-language version is resident on the CATI/CAPI systems. In a given month, only some 220 of the 3,400 Spanish-origin households (about 6.5 percent) are interviewed using the Spanish-language instrument.

Sample size

The CPS covers the civilian noninstitutional population. The sample sizes shown in Appendix Tables A-1 to A-3, both for "CPS-March" and for CPS-Monthly cover all ages. As noted earlier, the CPS does identify the Hispanic subgroups; it does identify subgroups of Asian and Pacific Islanders in March. The March CPS oversamples Hispanics by a factor of 2; thus the sample sizes for Hispanics for CPS-March reflect the oversampling.

Publications of data for Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans

Data from the March CPS supplement on the socio-economic status of the Hispanic population are published annually in a separate report in the Bureau's P-20 Series. Limited information is provided for the subpopulations. Data for the Asian and Pacific Islander population from the March CPS supplement are contained in the special report by race, issued by the Bureau; no information is provided for Native Americans. Some of the reports on other subject areas contain limited information on Hispanics and the API population. Information on the labor force behavior of Hispanics and Asians is published regularly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Public use micro-data files are available containing data from the monthly CPS, as well as for the supplementary questions asked only in March. The race/ethnic data to be found on these files conforms to the collected detail; that is, Hispanic subpopulations are identified, but only the total Asian/Pacific Islander group is shown.

Revised race/ethnic definitions

The new OMB standards for collecting race/ethnic data will be introduced in the CPS in 2003. Current thinking suggests a separate item on Hispanic origin, by subgroups, followed by the question on race, which would have separate entries for Asian and Pacific Islander subgroups. Allowance will be made for multiple reporting. At the moment, the Bureau is not planning to extend the detail published, either for Hispanics or for the API population group.

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