One way in which the CPS assesses the engagement of respondents in the labor force is by collecting information about the number of hours they worked.
Actual versus Usual Hours worked
The monthly CPS has two sets of three variables directly relating to hours worked. The first set, PEHRUSL1, PEHRUSL2, and PEHRUSLT, ask about the respondent’s usual hours worked. The second set, PEHRACT1, PEHRACT2, and PEHRACTT, ask about the respondent’s actual hours worked. The PEHRUSL sequence allows respondents to provide either a concrete number for their usual hours worked per week at their main job, second job, or in total, or to say their hours vary. The PEHRACT sequence instead prompts respondents to provide the actual number of hours they worked the previous week without an option for varying hours.
Although the difference is small, these questions are measuring two distinct values that are not necessarily equal. For instance, an individual employed part time may report their usual hours worked as “hours vary,” but may report “18 hours” when asked what they actually worked in the previous week. Similarly, a full-time worker who was on vacation for three days of the week might report usual hours worked of 40 but actual hours of 16.
Do other variables depend on these values?
Hours worked is used to define the universe of several other variables in the battery of questions asked to employed respondents. The usual hours variable is used to further define whether an induvial works more than 35 hours a week (the survey’s definition of full-time), whether they want to work more than 35 hours a week if they do not currently, their availability to work full-time, and their reasons for part-time employment. Similarly, the actual hours variable is used to determine detailed reasons for part-time employment and availability to work full time.