Tag Archives: Labor force participation

Digging Deeper into the Details about the Unemployed

National employment indicators, such as the unemployment rate, get attention as we release them each month. In August 2018, the unemployment rate stood at 3.9 percent, the same as in July. The rate in May, 3.8 percent, was the lowest since 2000. In addition to reporting this headline number, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides considerable detail about those who are employed – and those who are unemployed. Let’s explore.

But first, a reminder. The unemployment rate and details about the unemployed come from the monthly Current Population Survey, a survey of roughly 60,000 households. We collect information about household members age 16 and over. These individuals are counted as “employed” if they say they performed at least one hour of work “for pay or profit” during the reference week, the week including the 12th of the month. People are “unemployed” if they say that during the reference week they (1) had not worked; (2) were available for work; and (3) had actively looked for work (such as submitting a job application or attending a job interview) sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week.

Together, the employed and unemployed make up the “labor force.” The unemployment rate is the share of the labor force who are unemployed. Those who are neither employed nor unemployed are “not in the labor force.” This category includes students, retirees, stay-at-home parents, people with a disability, and others who are not working or actively looking for work.

We have more measures that help to provide a fuller picture of America’s labor force. These include people who work part time but would prefer to work full time. We also count people who have searched for work in the past 12 months but not in the past 4 weeks (and are therefore not counted as unemployed). Further, we count a subset of this group who are not looking because they do not believe work is available for them. People who fall into these categories are included in the alternative measures of labor underutilization, which we publish each month.

Let’s look at the unemployed in more detail. We can sort the unemployed into 4 groups: (1) new entrants to the labor force (such as recent graduates now looking for work); (2) reentrants to the labor force (those who had a job, then left the labor force, and are now looking for work again); (3) job leavers (those who recently left a job voluntarily); and (4) job losers (those who left a job involuntarily, such as getting laid off or fired or completing temporary jobs).

Typically, the largest share of the unemployed are job losers, and this share jumps during economic downturns. While the other categories are less volatile, they make up a larger share of the total as job losers decline. For example, in August 2018, 44 percent of the unemployed were either reentrants or those who recently left a job. The share of the unemployed in both of these categories is higher than in 2009, when job losers accounted for nearly two-thirds of the unemployed. A potential reason for people to reenter the labor market, or leave an existing job to look for another, is that they perceive jobs are readily available. In periods of high unemployment, reentrants make up a smaller proportion of the unemployed. For example, when the unemployment rate reached 10.0 percent in October 2009, reentrants made up only 22 percent of the unemployed. Similarly, in 2009 and 2010, the share of the unemployed who were job leavers (those who quit their jobs voluntarily) was less than 6 percent, about half of the current share.

A chart showing the number of unemployed by the reason for unemployment from 1998 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available from our data-retrieval tool.

Another measure to assess the strength of the labor market is the number of people quitting their job. These data are from our Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That survey asks employers about the number of “separations” over the past month. It classifies separations as either quits (voluntary), layoffs or discharges (not voluntary), or other (including retirements, deaths, and disability). The most recent data, for July 2018, identified 3.6 million quits over the month, an all-time high. (The survey began in 2000.) The quit rate, which divides quits by total employment, was 2.4 percent, also close to a record high.

Most of the time, quits exceed layoffs and discharges, except in periods of high unemployment.

A chart showing the number of people each month who quit their jobs, were laid off or discharged from their job, or separated for other reasons from 2000 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available from our data-retrieval tool.

At any given time, there is a lot of movement in and out of jobs, and in and out of the labor market. And individuals have a variety of reasons for making such moves. But the overall trend in recent years toward individuals coming back into the labor market and voluntarily quitting their jobs suggests that individuals may feel that job opportunities are available.

Labor Day 2018 Fast Facts

About 92 percent of civilian workers with access to paid holidays receive Labor Day as a paid holiday. Before you set out for that long holiday weekend, take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled that show the current picture of our labor market.

Working

Working or Looking for Work

  • The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 62.9 percent in July. The rate had trended down from the 2000s through the early 2010s, but it has remained fairly steady since 2014.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in July. After 6 months at 4.1 percent, the rate has had offsetting movements in recent months. In May, the rate hit its lowest point, 3.8 percent, since April 2000.
  • In July, there were 1.4 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 22.7 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 13.1 percent in July, while the rates were 3.4 percent for adult men and 3.7 percent for adult women. The unemployment rate was 6.6 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 4.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 3.1 percent for Asians, and 3.4 percent for Whites.

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 3.0 percent between July 2017 and July 2018; adjusted for inflation, real average weekly earnings are up 0.1 percent during this period.
  • Civilian compensation (wage and benefit) costs increased 2.8 percent between June 2017 and June 2018; adjusted for inflation, real compensation costs decreased 0.1 percent during this period.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to most private industry workers. The access rates in March 2018 were 71 percent for sick leave, 77 percent for vacation, and 78 percent for holidays.
  • In March 2018, civilian workers paid 20 percent of the cost of medical care premiums for single coverage and 32 percent for family coverage.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity—output per hour worked—in the U.S. nonfarm business sector grew 1.1 percent in 2017, continuing the historically below-average pace seen since the Great Recession. Some industries had impressive growth, however, including wireless telecommunications carriers (11.1 percent) and electronics and appliance stores (9 percent).
  • Multifactor productivity growth in the private nonfarm business sector recovered in 2017, rising 0.9 percent after falling 0.6 percent in 2016. Labor input for multifactor productivity—measured using the combined effects of hours worked and labor composition—grew 2.0 percent in 2017, outpacing the long-term 1987–2017 growth for labor input by 0.5 percentage points.

Safety and Health

  • In 2017, 14.3 percent of all workers were exposed to hazardous contaminants. The use of personal protective equipment was required for 11.8 percent of workers.

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 21.5 percent of employment. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
  • For 18 of the 30 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2016 and 2026, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry.

Unionization

  • The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.7 percent in 2017, unchanged from 2016. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.
  • Total employer compensation costs for union workers were $47.65 and for nonunion workers $32.87 per employee hour worked. The cost of benefits accounted for 40.4 percent of total compensation or $19.23 for union workers and 29.1 percent or $9.56 for nonunion workers.

Work Stoppages

  • In the first 7 months of 2018, there were 445,000 workers involved in work stoppages that began this year. This is the largest number of workers involved in stoppages since 2000, when 394,000 workers were involved. There have been 12 stoppages beginning this year, which surpassed the 7 recorded in all of 2017.

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that! Want to learn more? Follow us on Twitter @BLS_gov.

Reaching out to Stakeholders—and Steakholders—in Philadelphia

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has staff around the country who serve several critical roles:

  • Contacting employers and households to collect the vital economic information published by BLS
  • Working with partners in the states who also collect and review economic data
  • Analyzing and publishing regional, state, and local data and providing information to a wide variety of stakeholders

To expand the network of local stakeholders who are familiar with and use BLS data to help make good decisions, the BLS regional offices sponsor periodic Data User Conferences. The BLS office in Philadelphia recently held such an event, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

These Data User Conferences typically bring together experts from several broad topic areas. In Philadelphia, participants heard about trends in productivity measures; a mash-up of information on a single occupation—truck drivers—that shows the range of data available (pay and benefits, occupational requirements, and workplace safety); and an analysis of declines in labor force participation.

Typically, these events provide a mix of national and local data and try to include some timely local information. The Philadelphia conference included references to the recent Super Bowl victory by the Philadelphia Eagles and showed how to use the Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to compare buying power between 1960 (the last time the Eagles won the NFL Championship) and today.

We also tried to develop a cheesesteak index, a Philadelphia staple. Using data from the February 2018 Consumer Price Index, we can find the change in the price of cheesesteak ingredients over the past year.

Ingredient Change in Consumer Price Index, February 2017 to February 2018
White bread 2.5 percent decrease
Beef and veal 2.1 percent increase
Fresh vegetables 2.1 percent increase
Cheese and related products 0.8 percent decrease

Image of a Philadelphia cheesesteak

These data are for the nation as a whole and are available monthly. Consumer price data are also available for many metropolitan areas, including Philadelphia. These local data are typically available every other month and do not provide as much detail as the national data.

While the Data User Conferences focus on providing information, we also remind attendees the information is only available thanks to the voluntary cooperation of employers and households. The people who attend the conferences can help us produce gold standard data by cooperating with our data-collection efforts. In return we remind them we always have “live” economists available in their local BLS information office to answer questions by phone or email or help them find data quickly.

Although yet another Nor’easter storm was approaching, the recent Philadelphia Data User Conference included an enthusiastic audience who asked good questions and left with a greater understanding of BLS statistics. The next stop on the Data User Conference tour is Atlanta, later this year. Keep an eye on the BLS Southeast Regional Office webpage for more information.

People with a Disability in the Labor Market

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. BLS has been collecting data on the employment status of people with a disability for nearly a decade. Let’s talk about how we gather the data and then look at some long-term trends.

Why does BLS gather information about people with a disability?

BLS added six questions to the Current Population Survey in June 2008 to begin gathering timely information on the employment and unemployment status of people with a disability. Policymakers and others use these data to see how this population fares in the job market.

How does BLS collect these data?

The survey asks about physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. It is difficult to accurately identify all people with a disability using only a few questions. Research conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and others resulted in six questions that identify this population.

The questions used to find out whether anyone in a household has a disability are:

  1. Is anyone deaf or does anyone have serious difficulty hearing?
  2. Is anyone blind or does anyone have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses?
  3. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
  4. Does anyone have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?
  5. Does anyone have difficulty dressing or bathing?
  6. Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does anyone have difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?

People who respond “yes” to any of these questions are classified as having a disability.

How likely are people with a disability to be employed?

  • The employment-population ratio is the percentage of the population who are working.
  • People with no disabilities are more than 3 times as likely to be employed as those with a disability (65.3 percent in 2016, compared with 17.9 percent). This disparity has held throughout the time these data have been available.
  • People with a disability tend to be older, and older people are less likely to be employed. However, people with a disability are less likely to be employed regardless of their age.
  • About 1 in 30 employed people in the U.S. have a disability.

What is the unemployment rate for people with a disability?

  • Someone is unemployed if they do not have a job but are available to work and looked for a job in the previous 4 weeks.
  • The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people divided by the labor force, which is the sum of employed and unemployed people.
  • The unemployment rate for people with a disability has been about twice that of people with no disabilities in recent years. In 2016, the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 10.5 percent, and the rate for those without a disability was 4.6 percent.

 Chart showing the unemployment rates of people with and without a disability from 2009 to 2016.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

What about people who are neither working nor looking for work?

  • People who are neither working nor looking for work are not in the labor force.
  • In 2016, a larger proportion of people with a disability—8 in 10—were not in the labor force than those with no disability, at about 3 in 10.
  • Many people with a disability are age 65 and older. In general, older people are less likely to participate in the labor force than younger people.
  • Most people with and without a disability who are not in the labor force do not want a job, perhaps because they are retired, have family responsibilities, or are in school.

We honor the contributions and innovations that people with a disability make to our workforce and to our nation. We look forward to providing information about people with a disability for years to come.

Want to learn more? Check out our webpage with more data about people with a disability. We also have answers to frequently asked questions.

Unemployment rates for people with and without a disability
Characteristic 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
With a disability 14.5% 14.8% 15.0% 13.4% 13.2% 12.5% 10.7% 10.5%
Without a disability 9.0 9.4 8.7 7.9 7.1 5.9 5.1 4.6

Labor Day 2017 Fast Facts

Since 1884, ten years before President Grover Cleveland signed the law designating “Labor Day” as the first Monday in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been providing gold-standard data for and about American workers.

In honor of Labor Day, let’s take a look at some fast facts we’ve compiled that show the current picture of our labor market. 

Working

Working or Looking for Work

  • The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 62.9 percent in August. The rate has generally been trending down since the early 2000s, although it has leveled off in recent years.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in August. The rate has shown little movement in recent months after declining earlier in the year. The last time the unemployment rate was lower was in 2000 and early 2001.
  • In August, there were 1.7 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 24.7 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share seen in late 2006 and 2007.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 13.6 percent in August, while the rates were 4.1 percent for adult men and 4.0 percent for adult women. The unemployment rate was 7.7 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 5.2 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 4.0 percent for Asians, and 3.9 percent for Whites. 

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.8 percent between July 2016 and July 2017; adjusted for inflation, real average weekly earnings are up 1.1 percent during this period.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to a majority of private industry workers, where the access rates were 68 percent for sick leave, 76 percent for vacation, and 77 percent for holidays in March 2017.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of private industry workers participated in employer-sponsored medical care benefits in March 2017.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity in nonfarm businesses increased 0.9 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Although productivity is growing at a historically slow pace since the Great Recession, the manufacturing sector recently posted the strongest productivity growth in 21 quarters, growing 2.5 percent in the second quarter of 2017. 

Safety and Health

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 21 percent of employment. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
  • For 11 of the 15 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2014 and 2024, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry.

Unionization

Work Stoppages

  • Over the past four decades, major work stoppages (a strike or lockout) declined approximately 90 percent. From 1977 to 1986 there were 1,446 major work stoppages, while in 2007–16, there were 143.

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that! Want to learn more? Follow us on Twitter @BLS_gov.