Thursday, August 12, 2010

Graphic Views of the U.S. Unemployment Situation

By David L. Griscom

The graph above was devised by me, using the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) "Household Survey Data" through July 2010. The lower data points (squares) represent the total age-16-and-above civilian non-farm payroll employment, while the upper data (circles) represent the total civilian age-16-and-above labor force, defined as all those employed either full or part time plus those out of work who searched for jobs in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.  Thus, those "officially" regarded as unemployed are those lying between the circles and the squares (highlighted by the photograph).

The BLS also reports 2.6 million persons in the "marginally attached labor force," who wanted work and looked for a job in the past 12 months but did not search for one within the past 4 weeks. Clearly they belong above the circles in this graph.

You will notice that the labor force (circles) has tended to flatten out since early 2007 ...and also the fact that I have continued the "unemployed" photograph beyond 2007 as a sort of triangle sloping upward above the circles toward the upper-right corner.  Well, I selected the slope of this triangle to represent U.S. population growth, which is not precisely known but has been most commonly quoted as about 150,000 per month (the exact number I used, although Bob Herbert in his column that I reposted yesterday states "the labor force increases by roughly 150,000 to 200,000 people per month").  These numbers can be compared with the birth rates of those who turned 16 in the past 3 years, about 333,000 per month, and the overall U.S. death rate of about 250,000 per month, which is heavily weighted toward retired persons and thus would not diminish the labor force nearly as fast as the young persons augment it.  In any event, the average slope of the BLS-determined work force from 2001 to January 2007 corresponds to about 147,000 workers added to the labor force per month.

Subtraction of the 2.6 million "marginally attached labor force" from the top of the triangle at the right leaves an additional 3.8 million Americans likely wanting work but having totally given up for at least one year.  Adding the entire 6.4 million difference between the right-most circle and the top-right-most corner of my "triangle" to the 14.6 million Americans "officially" unemployed in July 2010 gives a more realistic figure of 21 million Americans out of work and a corresponding unemployment rate of 13%.

The video below shows the evolution of U.S. unemployment from January 2007 through September 2009 (the dark gray areas on the map represent 10.0% or higher unemployment).

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