Current Unemployment Rate Chart

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the newest unemployment data for April 2015 on Friday May 8th. According to the BLS, the current “Seasonally Adjusted” Unemployment Rate for April is 5.4%  down from March’s 5.5%. The BLS reported the “Unadjusted” Unemployment Rate is 5.1% which is lower than October’s unadjusted 5.5% and January’s 6.1%.

According to the BLS Commissioner’s report for this month:

Regarding the “Seasonally Adjusted Unemployment Rate” the BLS commissioner said, Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 223,000 in April, after edging up in March (+85,000). The unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 5.4 percent in April. Employment rose over the month in professional and business services, health care, and construction. Job losses continued in mining.

Incorporating the revisions for February and March, which reduced nonfarm employment by 39,000, on net, monthly job gains have averaged 191,000 over the past 3 months. In the 12 months prior to April, employment growth averaged 257,000 per month.

Last month the commissioner said, “Nonfarm payroll employment increased by 126,000 in March, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.5 percent.”

But as we see this month that 126,000 only turned out to be actually 85,000.

According to the Gallup  surveys Unadjusted Unemployment for April was really 5.9% well above the BLS’ 5.4%. Also Gallup says Underemployment (U-6) is really 14.8% (down from 16.1% two months ago) rather than 10.4% the BLS says.

Unemployment Numbers According to Gallup

Unadjusted U-3 Unadjusted U-6
BLS 5.1% 10.4%
Gallup 5.9% 14.8%
Difference 0.8% 4.4%

Once again the BLS numbers are quite a bit different than the independently generated Gallup numbers. This is no surprise, based on the long-term comparison between the BLS numbers and the Gallup numbers the BLS numbers consistently present a rosier picture than the Gallup numbers do. Theoretically the numbers are slightly different with Gallup measuring unemployment for those 18 and older while the BLS measures from 16 and older. But with the high unemployment rate of 16-18 year-olds,  this should actually make the BLS numbers higher than the Gallup numbers not lower, so it makes the understatement by the BLS even worse.

See Is the Government Fudging Unemployment Numbers?  for the comparison of Gallup numbers vs. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.

The Percentage of the Population that is Working

The U.S. Payroll to Population employment rate (P2P) is the percentage of the adult population that is working full-time for an employer . Obviously, a higher percentage working is better- meaning fewer people are unemployed. According to Gallup the P2P had been getting worse from mid-2013 but began recovering in 2014 but the P2P appears to be falling again after peaking in August.  A falling P2P could indicate rising unemployment although it could also indicate more people going to school, retiring or working part-time.

Back in November 2013 the P2P was 42.9% in (meaning that less than 43% of the people in the county were working full-time) down from 45.7% just a month earlier.

In January 2014 the P2P bottomed at 42%, from there it rose steadily to peak at 45.1% in July but began falling to 44.9% in August. Then P2P began falling steadily, reaching 44.8 in September, 44.4% in October and 44.2% in November. In December 2014 the P2P rose slightly to 44.3%, meaning a slightly greater percentage of the population was working.

The decline continued into 2015 with the P2P in January 2015 at 44.1% and in February 2015 it fell further to 43.9%. In March 2015 the P2P rose a bit to 44.2% but fell back to 43.9% in April.

The average P2P for 2012 was 44.4% and for 2013 was 43.8% so we are currently below the average of 2012 and very close to the average for 2013. The number of new jobs is barely keeping up with the population growth so the percentage of the people that are working is roughly the same. According to the U.S. Census bureau over just the last 12 months the U.S. population has increased by roughly 2.8 million people with one birth every 8 seconds, one death every 13 seconds and one new immigrant every 33 seconds (down from every 38 seconds last year) that results in a net gain in the U.S. population of one person every 13 seconds or  more than 4.6 people per minute.

Current US Unemployment Rate Chart

Current Unemployment Rate

(Click for Larger Image)

If we compare the BLS unemployment numbers to their own employment numbers we can also get a better idea of what is really happening.


In June 2013 the BLS said we had 136.769 million* people employed (at least 1 hour a week) in November they say we had 137.942 million* employed. So that looks good. A net increase of  1.173 million jobs. during that same period the civilian non-institutional population increased by 811,000.

*Numbers based on originally released numbers- the numbers were revised in January 2014 to 137.195 million and 138.536 million.

By August of 2014 there were 138.989 million people working.

To recap:

Employment Civilian
December 2011  15.2%  8.3% 8.5% 133.625 Million 240.584 Million
December 2012  14.4%  7.6% 7.8% 135.938 Million 244.350 Million
December 2013  13.0%  6.5% 6.7% 138.266 Million 246.745 Million
January 2014  13.5%  7.0% 6.6% 135.516 Million 246.915 Million
February 2014 13.1% 7.0% 6.7% 136.257 Million 247.085 Million
March 2014 12.8% 6.8% 6.7% 137.214 Million 247.258 Million
April 2014 11.8% 5.9% 6.3% 138.377 Million 247.439 Million
May 2014 11.7% 6.1% 6.3% 139.297 Million 247.622 Million
June 2014 12.4% 6.3% 6.1% 139.891 Million 247.814 Million
July 2014 12.6% 6.5% 6.2% 138.841 Million 248.023 Million
August 2014 12.0% 6.3% 6.1% 139.232 Million 248.229 Million
September 2014 11.3% 5.7% 5.9% 139.919 Million 248.446 Million
October 2014 11.1% 5.5% 5.8% 141.000 Million 248.657 Million
November 2014 11.0% 5.5% 5.8% 141.478 Million 248.884 Million
December 2014 11.1% 5.4% 5.6% 141.484 Million 249.027 Million
January 2015 12.0% 6.1% 5.7% 138.671 Million 249.723 Million
February 2015  11.4% 5.8% 5.5% 139.503 Million 249.899 Million
March 2015 11.0% 5.6% 5.5% 140.326 Million 250.080 Million
April 2015 10.4% 5.1% 5.4% 141.462 Million 250.266 Million
2 mo. Change -1.0% -0.7% -0.1% +1.943 Million +367,000
12 mo. Change -1.5% -1.1% -1.1% +3.085 Million +2.827 Million

So over the last 2 months employment has increased by 1.943 Million and the civilian non-institutional population (a fairly narrow measurement of population) has increased by 367,000 so that results in a net gain of about 1.576 million.  But according to Gallup’s P2P, only 43.9% of the population is working down from 45.2% in July 2014.

Historical Context

Currently the US (unadjusted) unemployment rate is 5.1% according to the “BLS Current Population Survey” (CPS; household survey) and according to the newest release of Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey (the Employment Survey) in April there were 141.462 million people employed still down slightly from 141.483 in December 2014 although the population is up.

In January the BLS again adjusted the number of people employed going back a couple of years. This time “only” adding 227,000 imaginary jobs. Last year the changes made by the BLS added 513,000 more people working in December 2013 (according to January calculations) than they said there were there were in the same month (according to December calculations). A magical increase of 1/2 million jobs out of nowhere. So they magically created more jobs in January than the economy really created over the next 6 months. The prior year they added 738,000 magical jobs making changes all the way back to May of 1979.  See BLS Changes Employment Numbers  for the details.

Discouraged Workers:

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 again to 15.4% (worse than November 2011) in February 2013 it was 14.9%. In both April and May 2013 it was 13.4%, while in June it jumped back up to 14.6%. Gallop calls this the “Underemployment Rate” and says it is was actually 17.3% in July 2013, 17.4% in August and 17.1% in September exactly the same as July 2012 but down from 18% in July of 2011.

According to the BLS U-6 in January 2015 is 11.4% while Gallup says it is 16.1%. There is a 4.7 percentage point difference between Gallup’s numbers and the BLS numbers.  Or a totally ridiculous 41.23% margin of error. With over 140 million people working 41.23% is over 57.7 million people. That seems like a big difference to me.

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 6.1% if we accept the government numbers. In the intervening years the rate reached a peak of  10.1% with an average of 8.54%.  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.


Source: US-BLS Current Unemployment Rate Data


  1. Just a wee bit biased, but the graph says it all. Almost half the increase in unemployment occurred by the time Obama was sworn in. It kept going up for a while. Then it started coming down at about the same rate as the last two recessions. Nothing magic here,folks!

    • Despite record amounts of quantitative easing (money printing) the recovery is anemic at best and so by your account there is no magic. I agree that the FED has been unable to generate any magic with their unprecedented Trillions but I don’t think that is what you meant.

  2. What needs to be recognized is that QE has brought slow but steady economic growth, rise in stock market indices, turn round of many recession hit companies and industries, and even cut in fiscal deficit. Exports are rising, too, cutting down the capital account deficit. All these indicators vividly point out that employment must have increased. Comparisons with the historical past are odious because technological imrovements and changes have improved labour productivity. Hence, the U. S. optimum unemployment rate would necessarily be higher than what it was before the global financial crisis in 2007-09. It is now necessary for the U. S. to alter its concept and base of unemployment in the new technological environment

  3. Tom Thomas says:

    Tim, If you want to compare U-3 numbers you have to look at the Labor Force Participation Rate. Bush admin averaged 5.2% with an LFPR around 65%. Obama’s current U-3 number of 6.7% was achieved with a LFPR of 63%.
    In order to compare Obama to Bush, or any other administration for that matter you have to adjust the current U-3, UP by the difference in the LFPR. So, Obama’s U-3 number is really 8.7% when you adjust for the current, dismal LFPR.
    So you have the BLS “number”, the Gallup number and the U-3 number adjusted for the LFPR under which the U-3 was achieved. My feeling is the LFPR-adjusted U-3 number is the most accurate

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