America Goes Back To Work: A Key Measure Of Unemployment Hits A Record Low

The numbers are good—and suggest our nation’s economic expansion continues apace.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported today that the number of people who were unemployed at any time in 2018 as a proportion of the number of persons who worked or looked for work—called the “work-experience unemployment rate”—was 7.8%, down by 0.8% and the lowest on record since the government began tracking these data in 1958.

The BLS also reported that the number of people who were unemployed at any time in 2018 declined by 1.3 million to 13.2 million, a drop of 9%.

Approximately 166.4 million persons worked at some point during 2018, with 64.4% of the working age population employed in 2018, up slightly from 64.2% in 2017. The share of men in the workforce was little changed at 69.7% but the proportion of employed women was up 0.6% to 59.4%.

Of note, the share of people working full time increased 0.4% to 80.8% in 2018. The share of men working full time was little changed at 86.7% while the percentage of women working full time was up 0.9% to 74.4%.

The typical time spent looking for work before finding a job was three months and one week. 

The BLS derived these data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS).

The unemployment rate was reported at 3.6% in October with November’s update expected to be released this Friday. That the U.S. labor market remains strong, along with the annualized increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) last reported at 1.8% in October, suggests that the economic expansion still has room to continue. Compensation costs for civilian workers were up 2.8% in the 12 months ending September 2019.

Ongoing trade friction with the People’s Republic of China has led to widespread predictions that tariffs and supply chain decoupling could cause higher inflation. But the unadjusted 12-month change in the CPI for All Urban Consumers was -2.3% for apparel and 0.3% for commodities, less food and energy—two categories heavily influenced by imports from China. 

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Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He was a California Assemblyman and is a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Retir...