What does the unemployment rate measure?

what is the unemployment rate definition

Therefore, governments will seek ways to reduce unnecessary frictional unemployment by multiple means including providing education, advice, training, and assistance such as daycare centers. Preventing and alleviating cyclical unemployment during recessions is one of the key reasons for the study of economics and the various policy tools that governments employ to stimulate the economy on the downside of business cycles. While the definition of unemployment is clear, economists divide unemployment into many different categories. When unemployment is voluntary, it means that a person left their job willingly in search of other employment. When it is involuntary, it means that a person was fired or laid off and must now look for another job.

what is the unemployment rate definition

The unemployment rate increased from 4.4% in March 2020 to 14.8% in April 2020, achieving levels not seen since the 1930s. Unemployed people, plus people who are marginally attached to the labor force, plus those who are employed part-time for economic reasons, as a percentage of the labor force (plus marginally attached). Unemployed people, discouraged workers, plus those marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the labor force (plus the marginally attached), make up the U-5 rate.

To be counted in the unemployment rate, you not only have to be without a job, you also must have actively looked for work in the past four weeks. If you were temporarily laid off and are waiting to be called back to that job, you’re still counted. If you’ve given up looking for work, you’re not counted in the unemployment rate. Many people argue that the real unemployment rate is much higher, since it should count those discouraged workers. The number of people receiving UI and the number counted as unemployed do tend to move in the same direction, but there is no formal link between the two. The only criteria for being counted as unemployed (and hence included in the unemployment rate) are that you are without a job and that you have actively searched for work or are on temporary layoff.

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Note that the denominator—normally the labor force—is adjusted to include discouraged workers, who are not technically part of the labor force. According to the BLS, those with temporary, part-time, or full-time jobs are considered employed, as are those who perform at least 15 hours of unpaid work for a family business or farm. The unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted to account for predictable variations, such as extra hiring during the holidays. If you went to college and received a degree, but haven’t been able to land a job in your desired field, this could be an example of underemployment.

  1. Some demand theory economists see the inflation barrier as corresponding to the natural rate of unemployment.
  2. The term unemployment refers to a situation where a person actively searches for employment but is unable to find work.
  3. The more comprehensive U-6 includes everyone in U-3 plus those with only temporary work and people who are considered marginally attached to the labor force.
  4. In response to pandemic-related closures or business cutbacks, unemployment in the United States achieved historic records.
  5. Respondents who are not employed then are asked if they have looked for work in the previous four weeks and are available to work.

The U.S. unemployment rate is released on the first Friday of every month (with a few exceptions) for the preceding month. The current and past editions of the report are available on the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Users can generate and download tables showing any of the labor market measures named above for a specified date range.


After a person leaves a company, it naturally takes time to find another job. Similarly, graduates just starting to look for jobs to enter the workforce add to frictional unemployment. Critics see this approach as painting an unjustifiably rosy picture of the labor force. U-3 is also criticized for making no distinction between those in temporary, part-time, and full-time jobs, even in cases where part-time or temporary workers would rather work full-time but cannot due to labor market conditions. All eyes are on the unemployment rate, but how do we arrive at this number? Full employment cannot be achieved because workers would shirk if they were not threatened with the possibility of unemployment.[112] The curve for the no-shirking condition (labelled NSC) thus goes to infinity at full employment.

what is the unemployment rate definition

It would exclude all types of unemployment that represent forms of inefficiency. This type of “full employment” unemployment would correspond to only frictional unemployment (excluding that part encouraging the McJobs management strategy) and so would be very low. However, it would be impossible to attain this full-employment target using only demand-side Keynesian stimulus without getting below the NAIRU and causing accelerating inflation (absent incomes policies). Training programs aimed at fighting structural unemployment would help here. Those who lost jobs and completed temporary jobs as a percent of the civilian labor force account for the U-2 unemployment rate.

How else can we measure the strength of the economy?

The resulting decline in the labor force participation rate was much larger than would be expected given the rise in the unemployment rate, and it remains unusually low. A study by Christopher Ruhm in 2000 on the effect of recessions on health found that several measures of health actually improve during recessions.[88] As for the impact of an economic downturn on crime, during the Great Depression, the crime rate did not decrease. The unemployed in the US often use welfare programs such as food stamps or accumulating debt because unemployment insurance in the US generally does not replace most of the income that was received on the job, and one cannot receive such aid indefinitely. In particular, as of 2005, roughly 0.7% of the US population is incarcerated (1.5% of the available working population). Additionally, children, the elderly, and some individuals with disabilities are typically not counted as part of the labour force and so are not included in the unemployment statistics. However, some elderly and many disabled individuals are active in the labour market.

In France and Britain by the end of the century, an estimated 10 percent of the people depended on charity or begging for their food. High, persistent unemployment can signal serious distress in an economy and even lead to social and political upheaval. The BLS is committed to providing data promptly and according to established schedules. Automated retrieval programs (commonly called “robots” or “bots”) can cause delays and interfere with other customers’ timely access to information. Therefore, bot activity that doesn’t conform to BLS usage policy is prohibited.

In the United States, the government uses surveys, census counts, and the number of unemployment insurance claims to track unemployment. Low unemployment is not considered healthy, as lower rates can be seen as inflationary due to pricing pressure on salaries; however, high unemployment is not considered healthy, as higher rates can be seen as a financial strain on consumer spending. In general, most experts deem unemployment between 3% and 5% to be ideal, though there is no single consensus on what constitutes healthy unemployment. The U-3 unemployment rate in the United States was 3.9% for February 2024, just in line with the pre-pandemic unemployment rate.

Published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the official unemployment rate is the number of active job seekers divided by the labor force. BLS defines active job seekers as people who are not working and have submitted a job application at least once in the past four weeks. https://www.dowjonesrisk.com/ Anyone who has a job at the time of the survey, even if it’s part-time, seasonal, or temporary, is considered employed and is not included in the unemployment rate. ] of supply-side policies believe those policies can solve the problem by making the labour market more flexible.

What does the unemployment rate measure?

For example, in the 1990s and 2000s, the United States had lower unemployment levels than many countries in the European Union,[47] which had significant internal variation, with countries like the United Kingdom and Denmark outperforming Italy and France. However, large economic events like the Great Depression can lead to similar unemployment rates across the globe. Another, normative, definition of full employment might be called the ideal unemployment rate.

Veteran unemployment rate

Employers avoid shirking by preventing wages from decreasing so low that workers give up and become unproductive. The higher wages perpetuate unemployment, but the threat of unemployment reduces shirking. High levels of unemployment can be causes of civil unrest,[107] in some cases leading to revolution, particularly totalitarianism.