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.

The Griswold Family Vacation through the Lens of BLS Data

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Joy Langston is a budget analyst at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. She enjoys watching classic movies when she’s not working.

As summer wraps up, let’s slow the transition into cooler weather to explore the dream American summer vacation of the Griswold family. America first met the Griswolds in the cult classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. We’ll relive their vacation through the lens of our gold-standard data. Clark Griswold, the easygoing and optimistic patriarch of the family, wants a fun vacation with his wife, Ellen, and adolescent son and daughter, Rusty and Audrey, before the kids grow up. For the past 15 years, Clark has worked as a food scientist creating “new and better food additives.” Data from the 2017 Employee Benefits Survey show that after 10 years of service, full-time workers like Clark receive on average 18 days of vacation, or almost 4 weeks.

Since he has the time, Clark decides to lead the family on a cross-country expedition from the Chicago suburbs to Walley World — “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park” in Southern California. Ellen agrees to the destination but wants to fly, as it will be less of a hassle. However, data from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys suggest driving may not be a bad idea. The average amount a household spent on vacations was $2,076 in 2017, with $684 for transportation costs, so flying from Chicago to Southern California was likely not in the Griswolds’ budget. To jumpstart this trip, Clark ordered the new “Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the Rally Fun Pack” from the local car dealership. He is scammed into buying the far less appealing, but now iconic, metallic pea, wood grained trimmed station wagon instead. Nevertheless, Clark is determined to make this the best family vacation ever.

Eventually, Ellen gives in to her husband’s enthusiasm and the Griswolds embark on their adventure, but not before stopping for their first tank of gas. You may remember that Clark struggled to find the gas tank, which was ridiculously located under the hood, by the engine, on the passenger’s side. The average household spent $109 in 2017 on gas for out-of-town trips and $1,797 for all uses. In July 2018, the national average price of gas was $2.93 per gallon, according to the Consumer Price Index. Although America has traded in station wagons for SUVs, neither are gas efficient and the Griswolds probably had to fuel up frequently on the 2,460-mile drive.

The family’s first misstep includes taking the wrong exit in St. Louis, Missouri, where they lose a couple of car parts while stopping to ask for directions in a questionable neighborhood. Despite this portrayal of St. Louis, the Occupational Employment Statistics data show this metro area had about 1.4 million jobs in 2017. About 16 percent of them were in office and administrative support occupations, with an average wage of $37,720 per year. Another 10 percent of jobs were in sales and related occupations, and 7 percent were in healthcare practitioners and technical occupations.

Driving through Kansas, they stop in Dodge City to experience life in the Wild West and order drinks in a saloon. According to the Current Employment Statistics survey, stops like these, including historical sites and other historical institutions, provide an average of 69,000 jobs from May to August nationwide.

The Griswolds make it to Coolidge, Kansas, where Ellen’s cousins live. The cousins pressure Clark and Ellen into dropping off cantankerous Aunt Edna — and her equally feisty dog — at her son’s home in Phoenix, Arizona. According to the American Time Use Survey Americans spend an average of 39 minutes a day — or about 237 hours a year — socializing and communicating in person. The survey also shows that Americans spend an average 4 minutes a day caring for and helping nonhousehold adults. The Griswold family gets a concentrated dose of this social activity by adding Aunt Edna to their road trip party.

For lunch, they stop off at rest stop to enjoy some homemade sandwiches. The average American household spent $56 in 2017 on food prepared for out-of-town trips, and $3,365 on food away from home (including fast food establishments and full service restaurants). The Griswolds’ enjoyment is cut short when they realize there is more to their soggy baloney cheese sandwiches than they bargained for. As it turns out, Aunt Edna’s spiteful dog used the picnic basket as a bathroom during the car ride. If you’re driving with a pet and want to avoid this mishap, Kansas has more than 4,600 restaurants and eating places to choose from, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

They spend the night in one of Colorado’s 98 campgrounds in three large, smelly tents. Despite their positive attitudes the next morning, the Griswolds meet with more misfortunes, including being pulled over by a state trooper, Ellen losing her bag with the credit cards, quarrels over their dwindling cash supply, and crashing in the Arizona desert while trying to find a shortcut to the Grand Canyon. After they are rescued and towed to a service station, Clark haggles with the local mechanic, who doubles as the local sheriff, and takes the rest of Clark’s cash. The average American household spent $954 on car maintenance and repairs in 2017, although costs usually are spread throughout the year and not on vacation misadventures.

By the time they drop off Aunt Edna in Phoenix, Ellen and the kids are begging Clark to buy plane tickets to go back home. However, Clark’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned, and he declares this road trip a pilgrimage.

When they finally arrive at Walley World, they discover it is closed for the next two weeks for repairs. Exasperated, Clark demands the security guard open the gates and let the family into the park. After a couple rollercoaster rides, the SWAT team and owner of the park, Roy Walley, arrive. As the police put handcuffs on Clark’s family, Clark begs Roy not to press charges. Clark persuades Roy not only to drop the charges but to allow the family to stay and enjoy all the rides! Americans do love their theme parks. There were nearly 1,000 theme parks in the United States in 2017, with 87 of them in California. These parks provided 185,000 jobs nationwide. This industry increased its labor productivity 13.7 percent in 2017, as theme parks reported higher output while hours worked by employees decreased.

Over the course of their trip, the Griswolds share a number of experiences, many of which either hit a little too close to home, or we hope to never experience for ourselves. After a long and tiresome trip, we hope Ellen finally has her way and Clark doesn’t force the Griswolds to spend another two weeks driving back to Chicago, which would deplete all his vacation days! This classic summer movie shows that BLS really does have a stat for that!

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.

How Hazardous are Summer Jobs for Our Young Workers?

During the summer months, young people (ages 16 to 24) may head to work, many for the first time. Maybe it’s babysitting or lawn mowing. Or perhaps you’re a lifeguard or working at the local fast food joint. With many students out of school and looking for opportunities in the workforce, just how safe are these new workers? In what types of jobs do workplace fatalities most commonly occur for these young workers and why?

From 2011 to 2016, 2,176 young workers were killed while on the job. One-third of these fatal injuries occurred during the summertime; 20 percent of the workers killed were ages 16–19, while the remaining 80 percent were ages 20–24.

Where do young worker fatalities occur?

While there are restrictions on the types of work that certain younger workers can do and the number of hours they can work, young workers still often have hazardous jobs. Construction and extraction occupations accounted for 22 percent of fatalities to young workers during the summer months, followed by transportation and material moving (17 percent) and farming, fishing, and forestry (11 percent). Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations accounted for 25 percent of all fatalities for workers ages 16–19, compared with only 8 percent for workers ages 20–24.

Chart showing percent distribution of fatal work injuries during the summer months by occupation and age, 2011–16

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

Over the 6-year period, construction laborers experienced the most fatal injuries of any individual occupation for both 16–19 year-old workers (36 fatal injuries) and 20–24 year-old workers (126 fatal injuries).

Are young workers more or less likely to have workplace fatalities?

Young workers have lower fatality rates than middle age and older workers. In 2016, workers ages 16–17, 18–19, and 20–24 all had lower fatal injury rates than the total fatality rate of 3.6 workers per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.

Chart showing rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age, 2016

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

What kinds of fatal incidents occur to young workers?

Transportation incidents accounted for the greatest proportion of workplace fatalities to both 16–19 year-old and 20–24 year-old workers. Transportation incidents include those involving airplanes, trains, water vehicles, or pedestrians struck by vehicles. The most prevalent are “roadway” incidents, where the person killed was in a vehicle. Typical roadway incidents include collisions between vehicles, collisions between a vehicle and something other than a vehicle, and noncollision incidents, such as a vehicle that jackknifes or overturns.

Roadway incidents alone accounted for more than one-quarter of fatal injuries to workers ages 16–19 and 20–24, which is similar to all workers.

Fatal occupational injuries to young workers in the summer months by event or exposure and age, 2011–16
Event or exposure Ages 16–19 Ages 20–24
Violence and other injuries by persons or animals 9% 18%

Homicides

6 8

Suicides

3 9
Transportation incidents 51 42

Roadway incidents

27 26
Fall, slip, trip 6 7

Fall to lower level

6 7
Exposure to harmful substances or environments 13 17

Exposure to electricity

5 8
Contact with objects and equipment 19 11

Struck by object or equipment

13 8
Note: Totals do not add to 100 percent because some fatal injuries did not fall into any of these categories.

Workers ages 16–19 experienced a higher proportion of fatalities due to contact with objects and equipment, such as being struck by an object or equipment. Workers ages 20–24 experienced a higher proportion of fatal injuries due to workplace violence—both homicides and suicides.

What resources are available to increase young worker safety?

Before you apply for that next summer job, or before you tell your kids to get out from behind the video games and get a job, you might want to learn more about hazards in the workplace. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have online resources to help prevent workplace injuries and fatalities to young workers.

Want to know more about fatalities in the workplace?

Percent distribution of fatal work injuries during the summer months by occupation and age, 2011–16
Occupation Ages 16–19 Ages 20–24 Age 25 and older
Farming, fishing, and forestry 25% 8% 5%
Construction and extraction 21 22 20
Transportation and material moving 16 18 26
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance 10 6 7
Military occupations 6 6 1
Sales and related 4 6 4
Installation, maintenance, and repair 4 8 8
Production 3 4 4
Protective service 3 8 5
All other 8 14 20
Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age, 2016
Age Fatal work injury rate
16 to 17 2.1
18 to 19 1.9
20 to 24 2.4
25 to 34 2.5
35 to 44 3.1
45 to 54 3.5
55 to 64 4.7
65 and older 9.6

A Clearer Look at Response Rates in BLS Surveys

Hands holding a tablet computer and completing a surveyPeople know BLS for our high-quality data on employment, unemployment, price trends, pay and benefits, workplace safety, productivity, and other topics. We strive to be transparent in how we produce those data. We provide detailed information on our methods for collecting and publishing the data. This allows businesses, policymakers, workers, jobseekers, students, investors, and others to make informed decisions about how to use and interpret the data.

We couldn’t produce any of these statistics without the generous cooperation of the people and businesses who voluntarily respond to our surveys. We are so grateful for the public service they provide.

To improve transparency about the quality of our data, we recently added a new webpage on response rates to our surveys and programs. We previously published response rates for many of our surveys in different places on our website. Until now there hasn’t been a way to view those response rates together in one location.

What is a response rate, and why should I care?

A response rate is the percent of potential respondents who completed the survey. We account for the total number of people, households, or businesses we tried to survey (the sample) and the number that weren’t eligible (for example, houses that were vacant or businesses that had closed). Response rates are an important measure for survey data. High response rates mean most of the sample completed the survey, and we can be confident the statistics represent the target population. Low response rates mean the opposite, and data users may want to consider other sources of information.

Do response rates tell the whole story?

A low response rate may mean the data don’t represent the target population well, but not necessarily. How much a low response rate affects how well the estimates represent the population is called nonresponse bias. Some important research by Robert M. Groves and Emilia Peytcheva published in the January 2008 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly looked at the connection between response rates and nonresponse bias in 59 studies. The authors found that high response rates can reduce the risk of bias, but there is not a strong correlation between response rate and nonresponse bias. Some surveys had a very low response rate but did not have evidence of high nonresponse bias. Other surveys had high nonresponse bias despite high response rates.

This means we should look at response rates with other measures of data quality and bias. BLS has studied nonresponse bias for many years. We have links to many of those studies in our library of statistical working papers.

What should I be looking for on the new page?

With response rates from multiple surveys in a single place, you can look for patterns across surveys and across time. For example, across every graph we see that response rates are declining over time. This is happening for nearly all surveys, government and private, on economic and other topics. It is simply getting harder to persuade respondents to answer our surveys.

Individual survey response rates are also interesting compared with other BLS surveys. We see that some surveys have higher response rates than others. To understand why this might be, we’ll want to look at the differences between the surveys. Each survey has specific collection procedures that affect response rates. For example, the high response rate for the Annual Refiling Survey (shown as ARS in the second chart) may catch your eye. When you see that it has a 12-month collection period and is mandatory in 26 states, the rate makes more sense.

We also can see how survey-specific changes have affected a survey’s response rate. For example, we see a drop in the response rate for the Telephone Point of Purchase Survey around 2012. This drop likely resulted from a change in sample design, as the survey moved from a sample of landline telephones to a dual-frame sample with both landlines and cell phones. Because the response rate for this survey continues to decline, we are developing a different approach for collecting the needed data.

What should I know before jumping into the new page?

There’s a lot of information! We’ve tried to make it as user friendly as possible, including a glossary page with definitions of terms and a page to show how each survey calculates their response rates. On the graphs, you can isolate a single survey by hovering over each of the lines. You can also download the data shown in each graph to examine it more closely.

We hope you will find this page helpful for understanding the quality of BLS data. Please let us know how you like it!