At BLS we are always trying to refine our products to serve
our customers better. Over the years, we have updated several of our
publications to be more web-friendly and include more interactive features. One
major exception has been news releases. In the past few years we have conducted
a great deal of outreach and investigation with our news release readers to understand
what would make our releases easier to digest and provide greater context to
the data. The outcome of this research is the two news release prototypes we’re
Editor’s Note: On October 23, 2019, we discovered some errors in the news release we published September 25 on which this blog is based. The news release was reissued with corrected data on November 7, 2019. This blog reflects the corrected data.
As BLS Commissioner, I am keenly aware of how much interest there is in our unemployment figures. It has often seemed to me that people don’t understand how we measure unemployment. I sometimes hear things like, “I’m not getting unemployment insurance benefits, so the BLS unemployment numbers don’t include me.”
I’d like to set the record straight. The unemployment
estimates we release each month are completely independent of the unemployment insurance
program. We do not use counts of people applying for or receiving benefits to
determine the national unemployment rate. In fact, we don’t even ask about unemployment
insurance benefits in the monthly survey.
How then do we measure unemployment? Our estimates are based
on a nationwide, monthly household survey, known as the Current Population
Survey, in which we ask people about their labor market activity in a
particular week of the month.
We count people as unemployed if they:
Were not employed
Could have taken a job if one had been offered
Had made at least one specific, active effort to
find employment in the last 4 weeks OR were on temporary layoff
The definition of unemployment includes people even if they:
Are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits
Have exhausted their benefits
Did not apply for benefits
To help us learn more about people who do and do not apply
for benefits, the Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office sponsored a special
supplement or addition to the Current Population Survey in May and September
From this survey, we learned that 74 percent of unemployed people who worked in the previous 12 months had not applied for unemployment insurance benefits since their last job. Of the unemployed who did not apply, 3 out of 5 did not apply because they didn’t believe they were eligible to receive benefits. Specifically, they believed they were not eligible because their work was not covered by unemployment insurance, they quit their job, they were terminated for misconduct, they had insufficient past work, or they had previously exhausted their benefits.
Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.
Looking further into the characteristics of the 26 percent of people who had applied for benefits, people who were last employed in management, professional, and related jobs were most likely to apply. Those in service jobs were least likely to apply.
Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.
In 2018, two-thirds of unemployed people who had applied for unemployment insurance benefits since their last job received benefits. The percentage of applicants who had received benefits ranged from 54 percent for those who last worked in production, transportation, and material moving occupations to 71 percent for those in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations.
Want to learn more about this topic? We have more data on unemployment insurance benefit applicants, nonapplicants, and recipients on our website.
Percent distribution of unemployed people who did not apply for unemployment insurance benefits by the main reason for not applying, 2018
Percent of unemployed who had worked in the previous 12 months
Other reasons for not applying for benefits
Attitude about or barrier to applying for benefits
Reason not provided
Percent of unemployed people who applied for unemployment insurance benefits, by occupation of last job, 2018
I have been Commissioner of Labor Statistics for 5 months now, and I continue to be amazed by the range and quality of data we publish about the U.S. labor market and the well-being of American workers. As we like to say at BLS, we really do have a stat for that! We won’t rest on what we have done, however. We continue to strive for more data and better data to help workers, jobseekers, students, businesses, and policymakers make informed decisions. Labor Day is a good time to reflect on where we are. This year is the 125th anniversary of celebrating Labor Day as a national holiday. Before you set out to enjoy the long holiday weekend, take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled on the current picture of our labor market.
Our monthly payroll survey shows that employment continues to expand—now 13.0 million jobs above the January 2008 peak reached as the 2007–09 recession began.
The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 63.0 percent in July 2019. The rate had trended down from the 2000s through the early 2010s, but it has remained fairly steady since 2014.
The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July. In April and May, the rate hit its lowest point, 3.6 percent, since 1969.
In July, there were 1.2 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 19.2 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share in late 2006.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 12.8 percent in July 2019, while the rates were 3.4 percent for both adult women and adult men. The unemployment rate was 6.0 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 4.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 2.8 percent for Asians, and 3.3 percent for Whites.
The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.
In the first 7 months of 2019, there have been 307,500 workers involved in major work stoppages that began this year. (Major work stoppages are strikes or lockouts that involve 1,000 or more workers and last one full shift or longer.) For all of 2018, there were 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages, the largest number since 1986, when about 533,100 workers were involved.
There have been 15 work stoppages beginning in 2019. For all of 2018, 20 work stoppages began during the year.
Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 22 percent of employment in 2018. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
We publish thousands of unemployment rates each month for states, metro areas, and counties. That can make them hard to follow, but we just upgraded our mapping tool to make it easy. Instead of wading through all those numbers, just check out the latest maps for what you need. We have rebuilt the tool using a more modern and versatile mapping technology. That will make it easier to update with future geographic changes. We have improved several features of the tool:
We have added tooltips to help you identify each area and its data. Just hover over an area on the map to see its information.
In the tab for state data that are not seasonally adjusted, you can choose a state and pull up a map of that state’s county data for the same period.
The metro area tab has returned and reflects the areas currently used by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics program.
You can choose the dates, states, areas, and measures you want to see.
You can select the key data ranges to highlight all areas in the same group. (Click or press the range a second time to deselect.)
The map space is larger and framed.
Use the arrow in the lower right corner of the map space to print the map image or export it to .PNG, .JPEG, and .SVG formats.
We hope these improved maps make finding data for your state and local area easier. Let us know what you think.
The wait is over! The BLS Local Data app — a mobile application that connects users with the data they need to know about local labor markets — is now available for Android devices. Search “BLS Local Data” in Google Play.
The BLS Local Data app, first released for iPhones last fall, uses the BLS API to present local data and national comparisons for unemployment rates, employment, and wages. You can search using your current location, a zip code, or a location name to find relevant data quickly without having to navigate through the huge BLS database. With one click, you can find data for states, metro areas, or counties.
BLS continues to partner with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to expand the features and data in the app. A second version is in development and will be available soon for both iPhone and Android devices. Version 2.0 will include employment and wage data for detailed industries and occupations. It also will have new charting functionality that will allow users to plot the historical unemployment rate time series for their local area of interest.
Check out the app and bring the wealth of local labor market data produced by BLS directly to your mobile devices!