The COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland has affected the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in several ways. The aim of this information note is to outline to users of the LFS what impacts they can expect to see in the LFS release for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
Firstly, the collection of data for the LFS has been affected by COVID-19 and full details regarding the change in data collection mode, and how the Central Statistics Office (CSO) are dealing with it, are presented below.
A range of measures have been introduced by the Government to provide income support for those whose employment has been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland. The available schemes are being administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) and the Revenue Commissioners, and a significant number of persons are now in receipt of some form of Government income support. Details regarding the available schemes are presented later in this note.
There are internationally agreed ways of treating persons in receipt of these different types of Government income support schemes for the purposes of compiling official statistics on the labour market. The approach which follows Eurostat and International Labour Organisation (ILO) guidelines is outlined in this information note.
Supplementary COVID-19 adjusted measures are also described below which provide an indication of the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market within Ireland whilst preserving the methodology of the LFS.
Effect of COVID-19 on data collection from the Labour Force Survey (LFS)
Households are randomly selected for inclusion in the LFS sample and are included in the sample for five consecutive quarters. As a household rotates out of the sample it is replaced by a household from the same, or a similar, area in the subsequent quarter and one fifth of the sample is participating in its first interview each quarter. The remaining sample households are distributed evenly across their second to fifth interviews each quarter.
The LFS usually consists of a household being interviewed face-to-face initially while the majority of follow up interviews are conducted over the telephone. As referenced in our Press Statement of 20 March 2020, the CSO had to suspend direct face-to-face interviews for the LFS (and other household surveys) due to the social distancing measures introduced in Ireland because of COVID-19. The CSO interviewer now sends an introductory letter to the household before the first interview, to explain the purpose of the survey and to arrange a suitable time for a phone call to conduct the initial LFS interview.
While most of the data collection for Q1 2020 was conducted in the usual way using a combination of face-to-face and telephone interviews, the last few weeks of the quarter consisted of telephone interviews only. This means that the collection of data for the LFS in Q1 2020 was only minimally affected due to COVID-19.
Response rates for the LFS in Q2 2020 are being impacted by the enforced change of mode to all telephone interviews. The Social Data Collection team in the CSO are actively engaged in mitigating against the impact of COVID-19 on LFS response rates and the CSO’s Methodology Division are providing guidance in relation to the weighting, calibration, non-response adjustment and other relevant methodology required for the LFS due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 Income Supports
There are two main schemes available to support those whose income from employment has been affected due to COVID-19. The majority of those whose income from employment had been affected due to COVID-19 at the end of Q1 2020 were being facilitated through the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment which is administered by the DEASP, while a smaller cohort were being facilitated through the Revenue Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme.
These two COVID-19 income supports are emergency payments which were designed to be short-term in nature after which people may return to work or may apply for Jobseekers Benefit (JB)/Jobseekers Assistance (JA).
The CSO have worked with DEASP and Revenue to make weekly breakdowns of those in receipt of the COVID-19 income supports available. For further information see Detailed COVID-19 Income Support and Live Register Tables.
Official Source of Labour Market Statistics - Labour Force Survey
The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is the official source of labour market statistics for Ireland, including the official measures of employment and unemployment. These official measures are based on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) concepts and definitions. The ILO measures are the international standard and all EU Member States are legally obliged to compile and provide this data to Eurostat on a quarterly basis.
A definition of the LFS concept of labour force status that currently applies to EU member states which is based on the ILO concepts and definitions is available at the following link: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/EU_labour_force_survey_-_methodology
The following definitions for the official measures of labour market statistics that the CSO are obliged to report from the LFS are taken from the link above:
Employment (persons in employment):
Employed persons comprise persons aged 15 years and over who were in one of the following categories:
This definition is applicable to employees, self-employed persons and family workers. Pay includes cash payments or 'payment in kind' (payment in goods or services rather than money), whether payment was received in the week the work was done or not.
Unemployed persons comprise persons aged 15 to 74 years who were:
Education and training are considered ways of improving employability but not as methods of seeking work. Persons without work and in education or training will only be classified as unemployed if they are ‘currently available for work’ and ‘seeking work’, as defined in the bullet points above.
The active population, also called the labour force, is the population who are employed or unemployed.
Economically inactive persons:
Economically inactive persons are those who are neither employed nor unemployed.
A person on lay-off is one whose written or unwritten contract of employment, or activity, has been suspended by the employer for a specified or unspecified period at the end of which the person concerned has a recognised right or recognised expectation to resume employment with that employer.
Lay–offs are classified as employed if they have an assurance of return to work within a period of 3 months or receive at least 50% of their wage or salary from their employer.
Lay–offs are classified as unemployed if they receive less than 50% of their wage or salary from their employer, don’t have assurance of return to work or have an agreed date but this date falls after a period of 3 months and if they are “available to start work in 2 weeks” and have “actively searched for a job in the last 4 weeks”.
Otherwise they are considered as inactive.
Labour Force Survey (LFS) and COVID-19 Adjusted Measures
It is important to point out that the labour market status that is assigned to an individual in the LFS is based on a series of questions that objectively assign the status based on the ILO concepts and definitions outlined above. This means that the labour market status assigned to an individual from the LFS in this way may not agree with the labour market status that would be assigned in a subjective manner. For example, a person laid off with no assurance of return to work may be perceived by many as unemployed. However, under objective ILO guidelines, unless this person is actively seeking work and available to take up employment (s)he is deemed “Inactive” and outside the Labour Force.
As the CSO is obliged to follow standard definitions and methodology when calculating the official estimates from the LFS, it has been decided to compile the Quarter 1 2020 LFS Estimates in the usual way and provide separate COVID-19 Adjusted Estimates. This approach preserves the methodology of the LFS while at the same time providing transparency around the current impact of COVID-19 on the Labour Market within Ireland.
The CSO has produced a supplementary measure of Monthly Unemployment in parallel with the routine Monthly Unemployment Estimate methodology, which incorporates those in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment into the calculation to produce a COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Monthly Unemployment. This new measure was published as part of the Monthly Unemployment Estimates (MUE) release for March 2020 and April 2020 and will continue to be made available for as long as deemed necessary by the CSO. Please see the Monthly Unemployment and COVID-19 Adjusted Estimates for March 2020 Technical Note which outlines the methodology used to estimates the COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Monthly Unemployment. The latest versions of those COVID-19 Adjusted Measures of Monthly Unemployment were published in the April 2020 Monthly Unemployment Estimates release and are also being presented as the COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment for the LFS.
As part of the process to generate estimates for the LFS for Q1 2020, the CSO are also making a COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Employment available. This estimate will be created by subtracting those who were in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment at the end of March 2020 from the numbers in employment during Q1 2020. A corresponding estimate will also be produced for the end of April 2020.
In the same way that the COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment can be considered an upper bound for unemployment the COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Employment can be considered as the lower bound for employment. The reality is that there is not enough information currently available for those in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment at an individual level to know what the labour market status of those individuals are.
The COVID-19 Adjusted Measures of Employment and Unemployment are subject to change when more information becomes available that allows a better estimate of the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market in Ireland to be constructed. The CSO have access to data for those in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and those who are benefitting from the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and are currently investigating more targeted COVID-19 Adjusted Measures by matching these and other data sources to the LFS.
Changes to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) questionnaire due to COVID-19
The CSO worked quickly to amend the LFS questionnaire for Q2 2020 to remove as many questions as possible from the initial questionnaire that would traditionally be completed face-to-face to make the interviews in Q2 shorter and easier to complete over the phone.
The CSO also worked to add a small subset of questions relating to COVID-19 to the LFS for Q2 2020. As outlined above, the ILO measures are unlikely to capture the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market in Ireland as a lot of people may still be classified employed (away from a job but expect to return to work within 3 months for those availing of the emergency income supports from the Government) and some people who are out of work are likely not to be considered unemployed in the future (if due to childcare responsibilities from schools and creches closing, they are unavailable to take up work in the next 2 weeks or if they have not taken active steps in the previous four weeks to find work).
High level questions were also added to the LFS in Q2 2020 to try and ascertain the numbers who have had work hours change (mostly decrease, except health workers and other frontline staff), lost work, been laid off temporarily or had to take paid/unpaid leave, etc.
The LFS questionnaire covering Q2 2020 has been live since 6 April 2020. The CSO has already published some results outlining the effect of COVID-19 based on data collected in the first two weeks of Q2 2020. For further information see Employment and Life Effects of COVID-19 April 2020.
The LFS release for Q2 2020 is currently scheduled to be published on 25 August 2020 and, as usual, any amendments to the schedule will be signalled on the CSO release calendar.
The CSO will continue to engage with users around all releases and users can contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or clarification in relation to the Labour Force Survey.
Martina O'Callaghan (+353) 21 453 5491