State of the Facts
In November 2019, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, falling back to the historically low rate seen in September after disruptions due to October auto strikes. Historically, the unemployment rate has ranged from as high as 10.8% in 1982 to as low as 2.5% in 1953.
Published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the official unemployment rate is the number of active job seekers divided by the labor force. BLS defines active job seekers as people who are not working and have submitted a job application at least once in the past four weeks. Anyone who has a job at the time of the survey, even if it’s part-time, seasonal, or temporary, is considered employed and is not included in the unemployment rate.
While this unemployment rate is what gets reported by most news outlets, it’s not the only measure of economic health.
For example, BLS also publishes the number of people who have been unemployed for 15 weeks or longer. The rate of long-term unemployed workers was 1.2% in November, the same level it was at one year ago at this time.
BLS also measures what it calls “discouraged workers,” who have given up job searching and “marginally attached workers,” who were available to work and had looked for a job in the past 12 months, but not in the last four weeks.
Economic health isn’t just about people who aren’t working. It’s also about what kinds of jobs are available.
BLS tracks people who are working part-time involuntarily, either because their hours were reduced or because part-time work is all they could find (also known as “underemployment”). There were 4.3 million people working part-time involuntarily in November 2019, which was about on par with the average level throughout the year, and the lowest this number has been in over a decade.
Taken altogether, the unemployed, discouraged, marginally attached, and involuntarily part-time provide a fuller picture of the job market. This rate was 6.9% in November, the lowest it has been since 2000.
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