What’s In An Unemployment Rate?

More than you might think.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that October’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, one-tenth of a point lower than September.  For six out of the past 10 months the unemployment rate has been at 4.9 percent, but how do the numbers behind the rate compare when it was 4.9 percent before the height of the Great Recession?  Let’s take a look:


The last year and month (other than 2016) in which the unemployment rate was at 4.9 percent was February 2008.  Notice the differences in that rate compared to October 2016:

  • The unemployment rate for teenagers (16-19 years) and young adults (20-24 years) is down significantly compared to February 2008.
  • But the unemployment rate is up for 25-54 year old workers and also up slightly for African-American workers.
  • Furthermore, the labor force participation rate for October 2016 is down over 3 percentage points since February 2008.
  • The U-6 rate (last row) that represents discouraged workers, part-timers wanting full-time jobs and those marginally attached to the labor force was higher in October 2016 than it was in February 2008.

All in all, total nonfarm employment has grown; there are currently 145 million people working in some capacity; 123 million of those workers are in the private sector.  But identical unemployment rates can tell entirely different stories.  The economic recovery has no doubt benefited some workers more than others.




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