A look at US unemployment

Summary:  a look at the US labor force.  The numbers tossed around in the news media give little perspective on the scale of the problem.  The obvious conclusion:  the Democratic Party is toast in the November elections if employment does not improve soon.  How sad that their inaction earlier this years means that nothing can be done to affect these trends before E-day.

Current Numbers

Some aspects of employment are leading indicators, some are lagging indicators.  Broadly speaking, employment is one of the major metric’s of the nation’s health, both economic and social.

These are the numbers from the Census’ Household Population survey (tables A and A-1) for July, released 6 August 2010 (they also contact businesses to produce the establishment survey).  All rounded to the nearest million.

  • 238 million – the civilian non-institutional population, adults 16+ years old (17 million are 16-19 years old).
  • 154 million are in the labor force (6 million are ages 16-19). 
  • 139 million have jobs (4 million are ages 16-19)
  • 27 million of those jobs are part-time jobs; 8 million of those with part-time jobs would prefer full-time jobs.
  • 15 million of the labor force are unemployed:  1 million  quit, 9 million were fired, 4 million entered or re-entered the labor force (2 million are ages 16-19).
  • 1 million have become discouraged and stopped looking.

This gives us various measures of unemployment depending on definition of the labor force and unemployed, ranging from 9.5% to 16.5% (table A-15).  All have been flat for the past 3 months.  None of these measures are more “right” than the others.  None are easily comparable to those of the great depression (the government began measuring unemployment in the 1940′s; earlier numbers are rough estimates).

The median duration of unemployment is 22 weeks.  Almost half of those unemployed (7 million) have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more (table A-12) — a post Depression record.

The Recovery

Wall Street and the media obsess over each month’s tiny changes, while telling us the recovery started last June.  And the progress since then?  Compare July 2009 with July 2010, (in millions):

  • Population:  236 vs. 238
  • Employed:    139  vs. 139
  • Unemployed:  15 vs. 15
  • Not in the labor force:  82 vs. 84

The results for the past three months are similar to the year-over-year results (on a seasonally adjusted basis).  The population is up, employment and unemployment flat, not in the labor force are slightly up.  Recovery!

New claims for unemployment have been stable since late December 2009 at roughly 463 thousand/week — an annual rate of 24 million per year.  Only aprox 80% of workers are covered by UI (no independent contractors and self-employed), and the unemployment rate is higher for uncovered workers.  So the job loss rate is probably running at aprox 30 million/year.  This shows considerable stress on the US economy.

Other posts about employment

  1. America passes a milestone!, 20 January 2010 — More jobs in government than manufacturing
  2. Yes, it is a “mancession”, with men losing more jobs than women. Just like all recessions., 5 October 2009
  3. Update on the “mancession”, 2 December 2009
  4. A look at the engines of Amercan job creation, 12 January 2010
  5. An ominous trend: number of Americans working for the government vs. those making things, 5 March 2010 — Update to the Oct 2009 post.
  6. A look at US unemployment, 23 June 2010

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