Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021
Appendix 2.11
Comparability of labour force status data from the 2021 Census of Population (long‑form questionnaire) and the Labour Force Survey

Release date: November 30, 2022

Both the Census of Population long‑form questionnaire and the Labour Force Survey (LFS) collect data on the labour market activities of the Canadian population.

There are a number of fundamental differences between the two surveys with respect to:

1. Enumeration method

In the Census of Population long‑form questionnaire, the method used for most respondents is self‑enumeration; that is, people complete the questionnaire themselves. There are two primary collection methods: a paper questionnaire and an online questionnaire, although in some instances, a respondent may complete the questionnaire with an enumerator.

The LFS is collected via experienced interviewers using computer‑assisted personal interviews (CAPI), computer‑assisted telephone interviews (CATI) or by self‑completing the survey on‑line. Between March 2020 and October 2022, all LFS face‑to‑face interviews were replaced by telephone interviews conducted by interviewers working from their homes as a result of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

2. Coverage

The Census of Population long‑form questionnaire, a mandatory survey, includes all people who usually live in Canada as well as persons asking for refugee status, and persons from another country with a work, study or temporary resident permit and family members living with them. The survey excludes people living in institutions such as hospitals and retirement homes. Furthermore, questions on the labour market activities are asked to individuals 15 years of age and over.

The LFS is also a mandatory survey. It covers the non‑institutionalized population 15 years of age and over. It is conducted nationwide, in both the provinces and the territories. Excluded from the survey's coverage are: persons living on reserves and other Indigenous settlements in the provinces, full‑time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the institutionalized population, and households in some remote areas with very low population density. These groups together represent an exclusion of approximately 2% of the population aged 15 years and over. National Labour Force Survey estimates are derived using the results of the LFS in the provinces. Territorial LFS results are not included in the national estimates but are published separately.

3. Sample size

Approximately 3.7 million households across Canada were selected for the 2021 Census of Population long‑form questionnaire. This represents about 25% of all households.

The LFS sample size in May 2021 was about 56,000 households, resulting in the collection of labour market information for approximately 100,000 individuals.

4. Reference period

The reference week for most of the 2021 Census of Population labour information was the week of Sunday, May 2 to Saturday, May 8, 2021.

The reference period for the May 2021 Labour Force Survey was the week of Sunday, May 9 to Saturday, May 15, 2021.

5. Comparability between surveys

In both the Census of Population and the Labour Force Survey, labour force status of a respondent is determined based on responses to a series of questions on employment and job search activities during the reference week.

The 2021 Census of Population long‑form questionnaire included six questions on labour market activities:

Responses to these questions determine whether a respondent was employed, unemployed or not in the labour force. For example, a respondent who reported having worked one or more hours during the reference week was deemed to be employed.

The LFS contains a more extensive set of questions that are used to define multiple categories of employed, unemployed and not in the labour force. The interview is computer‑assisted, which makes it possible to tailor the sequence and content of the questions to the respondent. The method also provides the opportunity to clarify and correct responses as the interview progresses.

The labour force status of respondents, i.e., 'employed,' 'unemployed' and 'not in the labour force' may be assigned differently between the two surveys due to differences in the way certain variables are collected.

  1. Self‑employed workers

    In the 2021 Census of Population long‑form questionnaire, self‑employed workers who report working 0 hours or being absent from work during the reference week were classified as 'unemployed' or 'not in the labour force,' depending on their responses to other questions. As well, the 2021 Census of Population long‑form questionnaire did not ask respondents the reason for their absence during the reference week.

    In the LFS, the same self‑employed workers may be classified as 'employed' if they attributed their absence to not having any work during the reference week.

  2. Persons on lay‑off

    In the Census of Population long‑form questionnaire respondents who report working 0 hours indicate if they are on temporary lay‑off from which they expect to return and are classified as 'unemployed' or 'not in the labour force' depending on when they last worked.

    According to the LFS, persons on lay‑off have been given an indication that they will be recalled within the next 6 months and the individual must have been available to work during the reference week if a suitable job had been available. LFS respondents on lay‑off are classified as unemployed.

  3. Students

    In the Census of Population, full‑time students looking for full‑time work who are not employed and are available for work are considered unemployed.

    In the LFS, full‑time students currently attending school and looking for full‑time work are not considered to be available for work during the reference week. They are assumed to be looking for a summer or co‑op job or permanent job to start sometime in the future and are therefore not part of the labour force.

There are slight differences in how the Census of Population and the LFS measure some categories of workers due to variations in the questionnaires. As a result, the following variables can be categorized differently:

  1. Self‑employed workers with paid help

    LFS respondents who are self‑employed with employees only consider paid employees whereas self‑employed Census respondents with employees may also consider unpaid family workers to be employees.

  2. Unpaid family worker

    In the LFS, an unpaid worker in a family business or farm must be part of the same household as the business/farm owner whereas the same condition is not explicitly stated in the Census questionnaire.

    For more information about the Labour Force Survey, refer to the Guide to the Labour Force Survey, Catalogue no. 71‑543‑G.

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