Periodic Assessments of Unemployment

Unemployment, April 2012

Unemployment in the United States continues to be tragically and unacceptably high. But the closely-watched and widely-cited monthly unemployment rate tells only part of the story; the number of people without jobs is actually much higher than indicated in that count. Meanwhile, Congress and many states are cutting back on unemployment benefits and budget plans are projected to bring on another recession. See Unemployment: There's Still a Crisis

Unemployment, November 2011 (data released December 2) 

In November, the unemployment rate declined sharply from 9.0% to 8.6%. This is a hopefull sign, as is the 120,000 new jobs that were created during the month. Unfortunately, the economy needs between 100-125,000 new jobs each month just to keep pace with the natural growth in the labor force. At November's pace of job growth, it would take two decades for unemployment to fall to its pre-recession level. 

In a time of high and prolonged unemployment, the official unemployment figure does not necessarily give a full picture of the problem. To be officially unemployed, someone must be available to work and actively looking for work. So people who give up looking, decide to stay home to care for their children instead of looking for work, don’t make their car repairs and no longer have a way to get to work, “retire” (although they hadn’t planned to and don’t really want to), etc., are not counted.  A better way to assess the true extent of joblessness is to measure the share of 25- to 64- year olds who actually are working. By this measure the U.S. economy continues to be in a big hole. See the chart from the Economic Policy Institute just above and available on the EPI blog in a posting by Heidi Shierholz for December 12, 2011. As shown in the chart, the share of the population who is working has not really risen during the past two years. (The shaded area is the recession.) The improvement in the official unemployment rate over the past two years has not been due to people finding jobs, rather they have either stopped looking or become unavailable to work. 

 Unemployment, September 2011 (data released October 7)

September's data show the unemployment rate unchanged at 9.1%. Some 14 million people are without employment. Over the month the number of jobs rose by 103,000 but this includes 45,000 jobs of Verizon workers who had been on strike and returned to work in October. While any job creation is good news, the economy is still too weak to create jobs for the million who need them. Just to provide employment for the growing size of the labor force requires over 100,000 new jobs each month. So the number of jobless people is growing, even though it is not reflected in the official count of the unemployed. In September, in addition to the 14 million unemployed, there were 11.8 million people who were either working part time while wanting full-time hours, or did not have a job but were not included in the official count because they were not looking for work. In all, some 26 million people (one in six potential workers) is either jobless or seeking full-time hours. This is nearly double the number of people who are officially unemployed.

Among African Americans and Hispanics, unemployment is at depression-era levels. In many cities, official unemployment is over 20% so the true rate of joblessness and underemployment is nearly twice that level. Young people are also severely impacted.  In September, 25% of teens and 15% of young adults age 20 to 24 were officially unemployed. The true figure -- including those working part time or no longer looking for work -- is roughly twice as high. Unemployment among teens and young adults is especially damaging.

Unemployment, August 2011 (data released Sept 2)

The unemployment rate in August, 9.1%, was unchanged from July. Some 14 million people were counted among the officially unemployed. In fact, millions more were jobless but omitted from the official count. As described in the note for July, just below, the true number of people wanting jobs or more work hours is roughly twice the offical count of the unemployed, over 28 million people or more than one in six potential workers. In addition, joblessness among people of color, teens, and young adults is markedly higher than the average of 9.1%, while it is lower for non-Hispanic whites. Among African Americans, official unemployment in August was 16.7%, 11.3% for Hspanics, 25.4% for teens age 16-19, and 14.8% for 20-24 year olds. The true numbers of people who want jobs or more hours are roughly double these levels. For more background on unemployment see Putting People back to Work.

Notably, however, there was no increase in jobs and employment in August. Some 17,000 government jobs were lost (driven by layoffs in education, primarily teachers) while in the private sector, 17,000 jobs were created for a net change of zero. The number of people employed is affected by the strike of 45,000 Verison workers who, in August's data, are recorded as not working. Without the Verizon impact, private sector job growth would have been 62,000 instead of 17,000, and the total job growth for the country would have been 45,000 not zero. But this is still completely inadequate since the labor force grows by over 100,000 each month due to population increase. With such slow job growth, the true number of people without jobs continues to climb even though many of these people are not included in the official count of the unemployed. The United States is still mired in a deep economic slowdown; Congress must fund a large program of job creation.

Unemployment, July 2011

In July, 2011, the official unemployment rate fell slightly to 9.1%. Some 13.9 million people were officially unemployed. Over 44% of the unemployed had been out of work for over six months. Some 85,000 new jobs were created.

The official count of the unemployed includes everyone without a job who wants one and is actively looking for work. It omits people who have given up looking. It omits anyone who has decided to stay home and care for their children instead of looking for work and paying for childcare. It omits anyone who cannot afford to repair their car and is therefore unavailable to work. It omits anyone who has decided to retire because they cannot find work.

But a broader count -- that includes many of these jobless (but not officially unemployed) people, plus an additional 8.4 million people who are working part time but want full-time jobs -- finds 29 million people are either without work or working too few hours. This is twice the official number and includes more than one in six potential workers.

While the official unemployment rate for the population as a whole was 9.1% in July, it was higher for already disadvantaged groups and lower for non-Hispanic whites: 15.9% for African American workers, 11.3% for Hispanic workers, 7.7% for Asians, and 8.0% for non-Hispanic white workers. In other words, unemployment among African Americans was about twice the rate for whites and the rate for Hispanics was about 50% higher than for whites. Unemployment among teens was 25%. As noted just above, a more comprehensive count of the jobless and underemployed is about double the official one.  Putting this all together, fully 32% of African Americans (one in three), over 22% of Hispanics (nearly one in four), and 50% of teens are either jobless or working part time while wanting full-time hours. 

For more information on the July unemployment situation, read the Economic Policy Institute's report Job growth still sputtering in lowest gear

Unemployment, April 2011

The nation needs jobs, millions of them. In April, 2011, the official unemployment rate was 9.0%; 13.7 million people were officially unemployed. An additional 8.6 million were employed part time but wanted full-time work. Not included in the official count are the millions who are jobless but not actively seeking work. Anyone who has given up looking, decided to retire early because their prospects for work are poor, or has otherwise dropped out of the workforce is not counted. So the reality is much worse than indicated by the official figures. Counting the officially unemployed, part-time workers who want full-time, and others who want jobs, there are 23.4 million people either jobless or working too few hours. This is nearly double the official count of the unemployed. See a graph of these numbers.

The official unemployment rate for people of color, teens, and young adults is even higher than for the workforce as a whole. Official unemployment is 16.1% among African Americans (roughly double the rate for whites) and 11.8% for Hispanics (about one and one-half the rate for whites). Teenagers face 24.9% unemployment while unemployment among 20- to 24-year-olds is 14.9%. Joblessness among people just entering the workforce is particularly devastating and has long term implications for their future earnings and career. Joblessness among people just entering the workforce is particularly devastating and has long term implications for their future earnings and career.

Unemployment, March 2011

In March, the unemployment rate fell to 8.8% with 13.5 million people unemployed as the economy added 216,000 new jobs. There continue to be five unemployed people for every job opening and nearly half of the unemployed have been out of work for over six months. The official unemployment rate fails to count people if they are not actively looking for work and millions of people have stopped looking. Moreover, some 8.4 million people work part time but want full-time jobs. A more comprehensive count of the jobless and underemployed nearly doubles the count of those wanting work. 

Read more about the March unemployment situation from the Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz .

Unemployment, December 2010

In December, the unemployment rate was 9.4%, down from 9.8% in November. Some 14.5 million people were officially unemployed compared with 15 million in November. This seems like good news but the reality is a very mixed picture. The good news is some 103,000 jobs were created in December. Unfortunately, this number would not even ensure a job for the roughly 125,000 people who, as the population grows, newly enter the labor force each month. It certainly doesn’t provide much help to the millions of unemployed.

For more information on jobs and unemployment see the assessment from the Economic Policy Institute. 

Unemployment and Under-employment
August 2010

On September 3, the Labor Department released unemployment data for the month of August.  Some 14.9 million people were officially counted as unemployed, 9.6% of the workforce, up from 9.5% in July. Nearly half (42%) of these unfortunate people have been out of work for over six months and they are unlikely to find a job any time soon. For each new job opening, there are five unemployed people looking for work.(1)

But the official unemployment numbers don’t tell the whole story. To be counted as unemployed, someone must want a job and be actively looking for one. But today many people out of work are no longer looking. They may have given up hope of finding a job, taken on child care responsibilities since they cannot work, or have others reasons why they have stopped their job search. These “missing” unemployed workers number at least 3.5 million. Workers are also facing under-employment. Some 8.9 million people are working part time when they want full-time work.

All together, the officially unemployed (14.9 million), the “missing” unemployed (3.5 million) and the involuntary part-time (8.9 million) workers total 27.3 million people. This is 17% of the potential workforce or one in every six workers. The true number of jobless or under-employed workers (27 million) is nearly twice the number counted as officially unemployed (14.9 million). Moreover, polls show that 55% of adults in the labor force have experienced either unemployment, a pay cut, reduction in hours, or involuntary part-time work.(2)

The burden of unemployment does not fall equally across demographic groups. Young workers and people of color are most likely to be unemployed. As a general rule of thumb, unemployment among African American is roughly double the rate among non-Hispanic whites, and the rate for Hispanics is about 50% greater than for whites. The rates for Asians and whites are typically very similar. In August when the unemployment rate among non-Hispanic whites was 8.3%, the rate was 16.3% for African Americans, 12.0% for Hispanics, and 7.2% for Asians.(3) These numbers reflect official unemployment; the share of people who are jobless or under-employed is roughly double this. So about one-third of African Americans and one-quarter of Hispanics are jobless or working too few hours. Young workers are also hard hit. Some 8.5% of workers age 25 to 54 were unemployed compared with 14.9% of 20- to 25-year olds. So in total, about 30% of 20- to 25-year olds are without work or working part time when they want full time jobs. Among teens official unemployment is 26.3%. The nation is in a crisis.

Jobs:  Nonfarm payroll jobs declined by 54,000 in August. Some layoff of 114,000 temporary census workers was only partially offset by an increase of 67,000 private-sector jobs. Given that the labor force grows by about 110,000 people each month, the employment situation deteriorated slightly.

(1) For four out of five unemployed workers, there are no jobs by Heidi Shierholz, Economic Policy Institute, August 11, 2010
(2) How the Great Recession Has Changed Life in America from the Pew Research Center,   
(3) The Census Bureau does not determine rates for other racial/ethnic groups due to the small sample size. 

Report for July 2010 

Contact Info

Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115