Jobs

6 Ways Of Looking At Unemployment

The unemployment rate fell last month to 8.8 percent, the lowest it's been in two years.

That single number — 8.8 percent — represents millions of people, and you can break it down lots of different ways. Here are six.

1. Men vs. women

Unemployment rates by gender i i
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Unemployment rates by gender
Jess Jiang/NPR

When the recession hit, the unemployment rate for men rose more than the unemployment rate for women. That was driven partly by large cuts in industries where the workforce is mostly men (construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing). The gap between men and women is now declining, as some of those jobs are returning.

2. How long have you been out of work?

Unemployment rates by duration i i
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Unemployment rates by duration
Jess Jiang/NPR

Nearly half the people who are unemployed have been out of work for six months or more. The figure hasn't improved in recent months, despite the fact that the unemployment rate has been falling. That's bad. The longer people are out of work, the less likely they are to find a job.

3. Age

Unemployment rates by age i i
Jess Jiang/NPR
Unemployment rates by age
Jess Jiang/NPR

The unemployment rate is always much higher for teenagers and young adults than it is for people age 25 and older. That relationship held true through the recession and beyond. In absolute terms, the jump in unemployment was bigger for the young. But in relative terms, all ages saw comparable increases. The unemployment rate for each group is now down from the peak.

4. Education

Unemployment rates by education i i
Jess Jiang/NPR
Unemployment rates by education
Jess Jiang/NPR

A similar story to unemployment by age: The unemployment rate is always much higher for those with less education. Those with the least education saw the biggest absolute rise in the unemployment rate, but in relative terms the rise was comparable for each group. The rate for all groups has fallen in the past few months.

5. Unemployment and underemployment

Unemployment or underemployment i i
Jess Jiang/NPR
Unemployment or underemployment
Jess Jiang/NPR

This measure includes 3 groups.

1. The unemployed (those who don't have a job but are looking for one).

2. People who want to work full time but can only find part-time work (less than 35 hours a week).

3. People who are not looking for a job but who want a job and have looked in the past 12 months.

6. How many people are looking?

The unemployment rate only includes people who are looking for work. People who don't have a job and aren't looking aren't counted in the unemployment rate.

So it's worth looking at the labor force participation rate: The percentage of people age 16 and over who either have a job or are looking for one.

Through the second half of the 20th century, the participation rate rose steadily as more women entered the labor force.

Participation and unemployment rates since 1948 i i
Jess Jiang/NPR
Participation and unemployment rates since 1948
Jess Jiang/NPR

In the past decade though, the participation rate has declined.

Participation and unemployment rates since 2001 i i
Jess Jiang/NPR
Participation and unemployment rates since 2001
Jess Jiang/NPR

This has happened in part because the population as a whole is aging, so a bigger chunk of the nation is retired.

In the past few years, a second factor contributed to the falling participation rate: Some people of working age have given up on looking for work. A key question in the coming months will be how many of those people return to the labor force.

For more: Calculated Risk is a great source for smart graphs of employment data. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes the unemployment numbers, has tons of data here.

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