Current US Unemployment Rate Statistics and News

How It Compares to Other Unemployment Data

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•••  Photo by Mark Edward Atkinson/Getty Images

In Nov. 2019, the unemployment rate was 3.5%. That's the lowest rate since December 1969.

The Nov.rate is below the 4.5% to 5.0% natural rate of unemployment. If unemployment is less than the natural rate, businesses can't find enough workers to keep operating at full capacity. That could slow economic growth.

The number of long-term unemployed remained at 1.2 million. Those are people who have been searching for jobs for 27 weeks or more.

The real unemployment rate was 6.9%. It includes those who are underemployed and marginally attached. The real rate also contains 325,000 discouraged workers. These are people who have given up looking for work but would take a job if it were offered. 

The labor force participation rate was 63.2%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports all these indicators in the Non-Farm Report each month.

The Nov. unemployment rate remained low while the current jobs report said that 266,000 jobs were added. They don't always tell the same story because they are taken from two different surveys.

Also, there are often small variations of a tenth of a point here and there. Those are not a cause for alarm. These are estimates, and they are revised as more data comes in. Pay more attention to long-term trends, which appear over the course of several months.

Also, keep in mind that the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator. That's because employers resist hiring new workers until they are sure the economy will stay strong. Although it's not suitable for predicting trends, it's useful for confirming them. 

You can also put this most recent report into perspective by viewing the unemployment rates since 1929. The chart below tracks the monthly unemployment rate since 2014. You can see how it has fallen below the natural rate of unemployment after December 2015.

2019 Unemployment by Month

  • January: The unemployment rate rose to 4.0%
  • February and March: The rate fell to 3.8%
  • April and May: The rate fell to 3.6%.
  • June, July, August: The rate rose to 3.7%.
  • September: The rate fell to 3.5%.
  • October: It rose to 3.6%.
  • November: It returned to 3.5%.

2018 

  • January, February, March: The unemployment rate remained at 4.1%
  • April: Unemployment fell to 3.9%
  • May: The rate fell to 3.8%, the lowest since April 2000
  • June: The rate rose to 4.0%
  • July and August: The rate was 3.9%, the lowest since December 2000
  • September, October, and November: The rate fell to 3.7%, the lowest since October 1969
  • December: The rate rose to 3.9%

2017 

  • January: The unemployment rate rose to 4.8%
  • February: The rate fell to 4.7%
  • March: The rate fell to 4.5%
  • April: 4.4%, below the natural rate of unemployment
  • May: 4.3%
  • June: 4.4%
  • July: 4.3%
  • August: 4.4%
  • September: 4.2%
  • October-December: 4.1%

2016 

  • January and February: The unemployment rate fell to 4.9%. Losses in mining and manufacturing were offset by gains in construction, retail, health care, and the leisure/hospitality industry.
  • March and April: Unemployment rose slightly to 5.0%
  • May: The jobless rate fell to 4.7%
  • June, July, and August: The unemployment rate was 4.9%
  • September: The unemployment rate rose to 5.0%
  • October: The rate returned to 4.9%
  • November: It fell to 4.6%
  • December: Increased to 4.7%

2015

  • January: Unemployment rose to 5.7%
  • February and March: The rate fell to 5.5%
  • April: Unemployment fell slightly, to 5.4%, as more people become employed, and around 20,000 left the labor force. 
  • May: The unemployment rate rose a bit, to 5.5%
  • June and July: Unemployment fell to 5.3%
  • August and September: The rate fell to 5.1%
  • October, November, and December: The rate was 5.0%

2014 

  • January: 6.6% - Retail lost 12,900 seasonal workers since the holiday shopping season disappointed. Second, health care lost 6,000 jobs, after losing 4,000 in December. The lower rate was surprising, since more people went back into the labor force, and the participation rate improved to 63%. 
  • February: 6.7% - The labor force participation rate remained at 63%. The stock market was mixed. Many investors think that economic data won't be clear until after the winter storms subside. However, economic growth was sluggish starting with Halloween retail sales. Other investors thought the Fed would beef up its Quantitative Easing purchases if the economy falters. Even though new Fed Chair Janet Yellen is more concerned about unemployment than inflation, the Fed knows it must withdraw liquidity while times are relatively good if it's to have any dry powder ready for another recession.
  • March: 6.6% - The LFPR improved to 63.25.
  • April: 6.2 % - There were 9.8 million Americans actively searched for a job, and a third have been looking for more than six months. Another 2.1 million people haven't looked for work in the past month, including 697,000 who are discouraged. There are 7.3 million who work part-time but prefer full-time. The LFPR dropped to 62.8%.
  • May: 6.3% - The LFPR remained at 62.8%
  • June: 6.1% - Of the 9.5 million Americans still looking for work, 3.1 million have been looking for more than six months. An additional 7.5 million are working part-time but would prefer a full-time job. There are another 2 million people who are jobless but haven't looked for work in the past month. Of those, 676,000 have just given up. 
  • July: 6.2% - The LFPR rose to 62.9% as 200,000 people started looking for a job. There are 3.1 million long-term unemployed, nearly a third of the total 9.7 million. There 741,000 discouraged workers. 
  • August: 6.1% - There were 2.96 million long-term unemployed, and 775,000 discouraged workers, which sent the real unemployment rate to 12%.
  • September: 5.9% - This was the first time unemployment fell below 6% since the recession. The participation rate fell slightly, to 62.7 percent, while the real unemployment rate dropped to 11.8 percent.
  • October: 5.7% - People returned to the labor force. The participation rate rose to 62.8%, and the real unemployment rate fell to 11.5 percent. 
  • November: 5.8% - The LFPR rose to 62.9%
  • December: 5.6% - The LFPR dropped to 62.7%
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