October 5, 2008

Historic Unemployment data

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a wealth of information. One area of data that they track is the unemployment rate as well as other employment statistics.

Employment data is at their CPS page. If you go to the site you can see some current statistics summarized on the right column. The unemployment rate is 6.1% for Sept. 2008 and the number of unemployed rose 101,000 in the month.

If you scroll down the page you can get to CPS databases. Using that you can look up historic data. I did this for unemployment and employment figures and created the charts below.

First is the unemployment rate as a % for the past few decades:
I made this chart myself for data for 1976 to 2008. The BLS has figures going back to 1948.
If you do a search on BLS with the 'One Screen Data search' then you can have it plot the data as a graph. Using the graphing function on the BLS site for unemployment figures for 1948 to 2008 it produces the following graph:
They also give a table of the data. The average unemployment rate for 1948 to 2008 was 5.58%. Unemployment was over 6% in about 2/3 of the past 60 years.

The BLS also tracks figures for the # of employed people, the total population, and the number of people in the labor force. When figuring employment they only consider the population of people who are over 16 years of age and not in prison or the military. So the population number is mainly people over 16 years old. The Labor force is then the number of people who actually work or try to. The labor force is a combination of the employed and the unemployed. The unemployment rate is the % of people in the labor force who are unemployed at any given time. So the unemployment rate is only among those people who normally work and doesn't count people under 16 years old or who are not in the labor force. People not in the labor force would include people who are retired, in college or financially independent, etc.

Below is a chart of various employment related figures for the past few decades (the numbers are in 1000's): So for this you can see the overall trend for the labor force, employed people, unemployed people and those not in the labor force.

The number of people in the labor force versus those not in the labor force has changed over time. One interesting chart to look at is the % of population in the labor force over time. Using the graphing on the BLS site I got the following chart.

Percent of population in the labor force:
This is interesting since you can see that starting in the 1960's and increasing through the 1980's the % of the population that participated in the labor force grew steadily from roughly 58% in the 1950's to 66% level in the 1990's and beyond. I would assume that this is due to two major factors: first, more women working and second, more households needing two incomes to support themselves.

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