The current Seasonally Adjusted Unemployment Rate for April 2013 (released May 3rd) is 7.5% down from 7.6% in March, 7.7% in February and 7.9% in January and the unadjusted Unemployment Rate is the same at 7.1%.
Current US Unemployment Rate Chart
(Click for Larger Image)
The key question of course is whether we can actually trust the numbers coming out of the BLS. I’ve been saying for a while that the unemployment numbers don’t match up with the employment numbers. And in January the BLS decided to “fix” this problem so they went back to July of 1991 and changed the employment numbers. How the number of people employed could have changed that far back is beyond me.
Over the last 15 months there are 4.837 Million more jobs which sounds good until you realize that the population has increased by over 2.9 million. So the “Net Increase” is 1.93 million.
|Unadjusted U-6||Unadjusted U-3||Adjusted U-3||Employment||Civilian
|December 2011||15.2%||8.3%||8.5%||133.292 Million||240.584 Million|
|December 2012||14.4%||7.6%||7.8%||135.560 Million||244.350 Million|
|January 2013||15.4%||8.5%||7.9%||132.704 Million||244.663 Million240|
|February 2013||14.9%||8.1%||7.7%||133.752 Million||244.828 Million|
|March 2013||13.9%||7.6%||7.6%||134.562 Million||244.995 Million|
|April 2013||13.4%||7.1%||7.5%||135.494 Million||245.175 Million|
|2 mo. Change||-1.5%||-1%||-0.2%||1.742 Million||0.347 Million||
|15 mo. Change||-2.8%||-1.7%||-0.8%||4.837 Million||2.906 Million||
Currently the US unemployment rate is 7.6% according to the ”Current Population Survey” (CPS; household survey) and according to the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey (the Employment Survey) there are 134.48 million people employed down from 135.560 million in December 2012. But somehow this loss of 1 million jobs results in the same unemployment rate in spite of an increase in the population?
Back at the peak of the unemployment, there was some discussion in the media about “discouraged workers” U-6 is the broadest measurement of unemployment which includes ”discouraged workers” and part-time workers who would rather be working full-time but can’t find full-time employment. Back in November 2011 the unadjusted U-6 unemployment rate was 15.0% and in November 2012 just in time for the election it was down to 13.9% but in December 2012 it jumped up to 14.4% and in January 2013 it jumped back to 15.4% (worse than November 2011) in February 2013 it is 14.9% and in March 2013 it is back to 13.9%.
See U-6 Unemployment Rate for more information on the broader U-6 unemployment calculation that includes these “discouraged” unemployed and gives a truer picture of the total unemployment situation. Also see the Misery index ( which includes Unemployment Rate+ Inflation Rate).
The adjusted unemployment rate in January of 2009 when Obama was sworn in was 7.8% the current adjusted unemployment rate is 7.6% but in the intervening years the rate reached a peak of 10.1% with an average of 8.91%. The average unemployment rate during the Bush presidency was 5.3% and during the Clinton presidency it was 5.2%. In addition to looking at the unemployment rate, I prefer to look at the actual employment rate, which often shows a different picture, in that we can see how many people are actually employed and it is less easily manipulated since the number of people who have opted for retirement or just stopped looking for work is not a factor. See the Current Employment Data.
How the US Government Comes Up with the Current Unemployment Rate
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics they don’t actually track the unemployment numbers but instead they base the all important “Unemployment Rate” on a survey. You would think they would collect the numbers from the 50 states who would get them from their unemployment offices. But that is not how it is done. Unemployment rates are calculated based on a random survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS). Instead of calling the main office of 50 state offices, the government calls up 60,000 households every month and then estimates the unemployment rate based on that sample. According to the BLS,
Every month, one-fourth of the households in the sample are changed, so that no household is interviewed more than 4 consecutive months. This practice avoids placing too heavy a burden on the households selected for the sample. After a household is interviewed for 4 consecutive months, it leaves the sample for 8 months, and then is again interviewed for the same 4 calendar months a year later, before leaving the sample for good. This procedure results in approximately 75 percent of the sample remaining the same from month to month and 50 percent from year to year.
For more information on how the BLS performs the survey see BLS: How the Government Measures Unemployment Unemployment data is interesting but my question is always… yeah, but how many real people actually have jobs? In addition to calling 60,000 households, the government also performs a Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey where they collect data from employers. The CES survey sample is larger and so the employment data is considered more reliable than the unemployment data. For more information See: Current Employment Data Historical Employment Data Chart The Misery index measures inflation plus unemployment and is a good measure of the discomfort of the country’s population. Current Employment vs Unemployment Chart Are they just two sides of the same coin or is there more? Sometimes the best thing to do during times of economic decline is to go back to school and wait out the decline while improving your skills at the same time. See The Difference a Degree Makes in Unemployment Levels for more information on how a degree might help. Unemployment, Part-time Workers and Obamacare 7 Tips for the Newly Unemployed Job Hunting Success: How to Make Yourself More Employable Highly Skilled Worker Shortage in a Recession? The Fastest Growing Careers of 2012 Source: US-BLS Current Unemployment Rate Data