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Job market remains tight in 2019, as the unemployment rate falls to its lowest level since 1969

By April 28, 2020 No Comments

The U.S. labor market remained strong in 2019, as the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent, the lowest rate since 1969. Both the employment-population ratio and the civilian labor force participation rate increased over the year. Levels of long-term joblessness and involuntary part-time employment continued to trend down.

A decade after the end of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy continued to expand, and the labor market remained strong by historical standards. By the end of 2019, the economy had grown for 126 months or 42 quarters, making it the longest economic expansion on record.1 Most labor force measures continued to improve throughout 2019. Total employment, as measured by the Current Population Survey (CPS), expanded by 2.0 million, reaching 158.6 million by the end of the year. In addition, the employment-population ratio (the percentage of the population age 16 and over who are employed) continued to increase as well, reaching 61.0 percent. There were 5.8 million people unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2019, down 341,000 from a year earlier, and the jobless rate declined to 3.5 percent, the lowest rate in 50 years.2 (See the box that follows for more information about the CPS, as well as the Current Employment Statistics survey.)

The CPS and the CES

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) produces two monthly employment series obtained from two different surveys: the estimate of total nonfarm jobs, derived from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also called the establishment or payroll survey; and the estimate of total civilian employment, based on the Current Population Survey (CPS), also called the household survey. The two surveys use different definitions of employment, as well as different survey and estimation methods. The CES program is a survey of employers that provides a measure of the number of payroll jobs in nonfarm industries. The CPS is a survey of households that provides a measure of employed people age 16 and over in the civilian noninstitutional population. Employment estimates from the CPS provide information about workers in both the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors and in all types of work arrangements: workers with wage and salary jobs (including employment in a private household), those who are self-employed, and those doing unpaid work for at least 15 hours per week in a business or farm operated by a family member. CES payroll employment estimates are restricted to nonagricultural wage and salary jobs and exclude private household workers. As a result, employment estimates from the CPS are higher than those from the CES survey. In the CPS, however, workers who hold multiple jobs (referred to as “multiple jobholders”) are counted only once, regardless of how many jobs these workers held during the survey reference period. By contrast, because the CES survey counts the number of jobs rather than the number of people, each nonfarm job is counted separately even when two or more jobs are held by the same person.

The reference periods for the two surveys also differ. In the CPS, the reference period is generally the calendar week that includes the 12th day of the month. In the CES survey, employers report the number of workers on their payrolls for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. Because pay periods vary in length among employers and may be longer than 1 week, the CES employment estimates can reflect longer reference periods.

In addition to the monthly news release, The Employment Situation, which contains data from the CPS and the CES survey, BLS publishes a monthly report with the latest trends in and comparisons of employment as measured by the two surveys. (See “Comparing employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys,” at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ces_cps_trends.htm.)

This article highlights important developments in key labor market measures from the CPS during 2019, both overall and for various demographic groups. The article also examines changes in usual weekly earnings and in labor force status flows, as well as the employment situations of veterans, people with a disability, and the foreign born.

Employment grew in 2019; the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level since 1969

The number of employed people increased by 2.0 million over the year, reaching 158.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. This growth was smaller than the over-the-year increase of 2.8 million in 2018, partly reflecting slower population growth.

Although employment trended up at a slower pace, both the employment–population ratio and the labor force participation rate increased in 2019. (The labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population age 16 and over who are either employed or actively seeking employment.) In the fourth quarter of 2019, the employment–population ratio was 61.0 percent, up by 0.4 percentage point over the year. Although this ratio has been trending up since 2014, it is still below its level in the years leading up to the Great Recession, having reached 63.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007. The labor force participation rate increased by 0.3 percentage point, to 63.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, but this measure has been fairly flat in the past 5 years, ranging from 62.5 percent to 63.2 percent. (See figure 1 and table 1.)

PercentFigure 1. Labor force participation rate and employment–population ratio,quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 1999–2019Labor force participation rateEmployment–population ratio19992001200320052007200920112013201520172019505560657075Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterly turningpoints). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.Labor force participation rateQ4 2011: 64.1%

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Table 1. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older by gender, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

CharacteristicFourth quarter, 20182019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter
Total, 16 years and older
Civilian labor force162,793163,041162,820163,773164,4351,642
Participation rate62.963.162.963.163.20.3
Employed156,645156,745156,896157,846158,6281,983
Employment–population ratio 60.660.760.660.861.00.4
Unemployed6,1486,2975,9245,9265,807-341
Unemployment rate3.83.93.63.63.5-0.3
Men, 16 years and older
Civilian labor force86,26486,46186,39886,82487,018754
Participation rate68.969.269.069.269.20.3
Employed83,00683,04283,19083,65083,942936
Employment–population ratio 66.366.566.466.766.70.4
Unemployed3,2583,4193,2083,1743,076-182
Unemployment rate3.84.03.73.73.5-0.3
Women, 16 years and older
Civilian labor force76,52976,58076,42276,94977,416887
Participation rate57.357.457.257.457.70.4
Employed73,63973,70373,70674,19774,6851,046
Employment–population ratio 55.155.255.155.455.60.5
Unemployed2,8902,8782,7162,7522,731-159
Unemployment rate3.83.83.63.63.5-0.3
White
Civilian labor force126,257126,311126,107126,756127,170913
Participation rate62.963.062.863.163.20.3
Employed121,992122,014122,044122,578123,0931,101
Employment–population ratio 60.860.960.861.061.20.4
Unemployed4,2654,2974,0624,1784,077-188
Unemployment rate3.43.43.23.33.2-0.2
Black or African American
Civilian labor force20,49220,53620,53120,67020,776284
Participation rate62.262.462.262.562.60.4
Employed19,19719,14819,25119,51219,603406
Employment–population ratio 58.358.258.459.059.10.8
Unemployed1,2941,3881,2801,1581,173-121
Unemployment rate6.36.86.25.65.6-0.7
Asian
Civilian labor force10,29010,35810,34610,50010,632342
Participation rate64.064.363.164.064.50.5
Employed9,97710,04010,10910,21710,351374
Employment–population ratio 62.062.361.662.362.80.8
Unemployed313319237283282-31
Unemployment rate3.03.12.32.72.7-0.3
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity
Civilian labor force28,71228,87428,71329,09929,525813
Participation rate66.567.066.266.767.30.8
Employed27,44127,53927,49727,88128,301860
Employment–population ratio 63.663.963.463.964.50.9
Unemployed1,2721,3351,2151,2181,223-49
Unemployment rate4.44.64.24.24.1-0.3
Note: Estimates for the above race groups (White, Black or African American, and Asian) do not sum to totals because data are not presented for all races. Persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, the number of unemployed people, at 5.8 million, was down by 341,000 from a year earlier.3 The national unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage point over the year, to 3.5 percent, the lowest jobless rate since 1969.4 (See figure 2.)

PercentFigure 2. Unemployment rate for people 16 years and over, quarterlyaverages, seasonally adjusted, 1968–201919681971197419771980198319861989199219951998200120042007201020132016201924681012Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterlyturning points). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Employment grew for most demographic groups; labor force participation increased for Whites and Hispanics but changed little for Blacks and Asians

Over the year, the employment–population ratio for women increased by 0.5 percentage point, to 55.6 percent, and the ratio for men increased by 0.4 percentage point, to 66.7 percent. Both measures have increased in recent years and are at their highest levels since 2008. The labor force participation rate for women rose by 0.4 percentage point, to 57.7 percent, following a similar increase in 2018. The labor force participation rate for men, at 69.2 percent, was little changed over the year and has shown little movement since the end of 2014.

In 2019, the employment–population ratios increased for Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.5 The ratio for Hispanics increased by 0.9 percentage point, to 64.5 percent, and the ratio for Whites increased by 0.4 percentage point, to 61.2 percent. The employment–population ratio for Blacks increased by 0.8 percentage point, to 59.1 percent, the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2001. The ratio for Asians increased to 62.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, a gain of 0.8 percentage point over the year.

The labor force participation rates increased over the year for Whites, by 0.3 percentage point, to 63.2 percent, and for Hispanics, by 0.8 percentage point, to 67.3 percent, but these rates were about unchanged for Asians (64.5 percent) and Blacks (62.6 percent).

Unemployment rate reached lowest level since 1969

The number of people unemployed was 5.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, down by 341,000 from a year earlier. The change in the number of unemployed people followed 2 years of larger declines. The national unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage point over the year, to 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019. Although the decrease in the number of unemployed people was relatively small by historical standards, the jobless rate fell to its lowest level since 1969, when it was 3.4 percent.

In 2019, the unemployment rates declined to 3.5 percent for both men and women. Among the major race and ethnicity groups, the unemployment rates for Blacks (5.6 percent) and Hispanics (4.1 percent) were at record lows in the fourth quarter of 2019. The rates for both groups had been at double-digit levels for several years following the 2007–09 recession. Over the year, the unemployment rate for Whites decreased by 0.2 percentage point, to 3.2 percent, and the jobless rate for Asians was little changed, at 2.7 percent. (See figure 3.)

PercentFigure 3. Unemployment rates, by race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity,quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 1994–2019WhitesBlacksAsiansHispanics19941999200420092014201905101520Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterlyturning points). People of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity may be of any race. Data for Asians are not available before2000 and are not seasonally adjusted before 2010. Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter,and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Jobless rate decreased, employment increased for older workers

Much of the labor market improvement in 2019 occurred among older workers. Among workers age 55 and over, the unemployment rate was 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, a decline of 0.4 percentage point from 2018. For older men, the unemployment rate declined by 0.4 percentage point, to 2.4 percent, while the rate for older women was little changed, at 2.7 percent. Nearly half of the increase in employment over the year occurred among workers age 55 and over, with 927,000 more employed people in that age group than in the previous year. (See table 2.)

Table 2. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and over, by age and gender, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

CharacteristicFourth quarter, 20182019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter
Total, 16 to 24 years
Civilian labor force20,89720,98821,06121,15021,134237
Participation rate 55.155.555.856.156.00.9
Employed19,13519,12319,31619,38319,442307
Employment–population ratio 50.450.651.251.451.51.1
Unemployed1,7621,8641,7451,7681,693-69
Unemployment rate 8.48.98.38.48.0-0.4
Total, 16 to 19 years
Civilian labor force5,9345,8565,7905,9475,97036
Participation rate 35.435.134.735.635.80.4
Employed5,1995,0945,0525,1995,23637
Employment–population ratio 31.030.530.331.231.40.4
Unemployed735761738748734-1
Unemployment rate 12.413.012.812.612.3-0.1
Total, 20 to 24 years
Civilian labor force14,96315,13215,27115,20315,164201
Participation rate 70.671.872.572.272.11.5
Employed13,93614,02914,26514,18414,205269
Employment–population ratio 65.866.567.767.467.51.7
Unemployed1,0271,1031,0071,020958-69
Unemployment rate 6.97.36.66.76.3-0.6
Total, 25 to 54 years
Civilian labor force104,080104,120103,813104,082104,669589
Participation rate 82.282.582.282.482.80.6
Employed100,783100,761100,692100,905101,536753
Employment–population ratio 79.679.879.779.980.40.8
Unemployed3,2973,3593,1213,1773,133-164
Unemployment rate 3.23.23.03.13.0-0.2
Men, 25 to 54 years
Civilian labor force55,54655,63955,37055,46855,63286
Participation rate 89.089.488.989.089.20.2
Employed53,81253,86353,71753,78354,019207
Employment–population ratio 86.286.586.286.386.60.4
Unemployed1,7351,7751,6521,6851,613-122
Unemployment rate 3.13.23.03.02.9-0.2
Women, 25 to 54 years
Civilian labor force48,53448,48248,44348,61449,037503
Participation rate 75.775.875.776.076.60.9
Employed46,97146,89846,97547,12247,516545
Employment–population ratio 73.273.373.473.774.31.1
Unemployed1,5631,5841,4681,4921,521-42
Unemployment rate 3.23.33.03.13.1-0.1
Total, 55 years and over
Civilian labor force37,82537,99637,91038,50338,642817
Participation rate 40.240.240.040.340.30.1
Employed36,74536,90836,86037,51237,672927
Employment–population ratio 39.039.138.939.339.30.3
Unemployed1,0801,0881,051991970-110
Unemployment rate 2.92.92.82.62.5-0.4
Men, 55 years and over
Civilian labor force20,14720,22120,26920,54120,616469
Participation rate 46.246.246.146.546.40.2
Employed19,58019,62319,73820,05220,123543
Employment–population ratio 44.944.944.945.445.30.4
Unemployed567597532489493-74
Unemployment rate 2.83.02.62.42.4-0.4
Women, 55 years and over
Civilian labor force17,67317,76817,65217,95318,028355
Participation rate 34.935.134.735.135.00.1
Employed17,16617,28417,12217,46017,549383
Employment–population ratio 33.934.133.634.134.10.2
Unemployed507484530493479-28
Unemployment rate 2.92.73.02.72.7-0.2
Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

Although the labor force participation rate for older workers (those age 55 and over) was little changed over the year, there was an increase in the labor force participation rate among people age 65 and over. The rate for those age 65 and over increased by 0.7 percentage point, to 20.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019. (Data for those age 65 and over are not seasonally adjusted.) (See table 3.)

 Table 3. Labor force participation rates of the civilian noninstitutional population, by age and gender, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2018–19

Age and genderFourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, 2018–19
Total
16 years and over62.963.20.3
16 to 24 years55.156.00.9
16 to 19 years35.435.80.4
20 to 24 years70.672.11.5
25 to 54 years82.282.80.6
25 to 34 years82.783.40.7
35 to 44 years82.983.30.4
45 to 54 years81.181.70.6
55 years and over40.240.30.1
55 to 64 years65.365.50.2
65 years and over19.820.50.7
Men
16 years and over68.969.20.3
16 to 24 years55.356.81.5
16 to 19 years34.135.81.7
20 to 24 years72.373.61.3
25 to 54 years89.089.20.2
25 to 34 years89.189.50.4
35 to 44 years90.890.6-0.2
45 to 54 years87.187.30.2
55 years and over46.246.40.2
55 to 64 years71.671.5-0.1
65 years and over24.025.11.1
Women
16 years and over57.357.70.4
16 to 24 years54.855.20.4
16 to 19 years36.735.7-1.0
20 to 24 years68.970.61.7
25 to 54 years75.776.60.9
25 to 34 years76.477.30.9
35 to 44 years75.276.31.1
45 to 54 years75.376.20.9
55 years and over34.935.00.1
55 to 64 years59.559.80.3
65 years and over16.316.80.5
Note: Data for people age 55 to 64 and for those 65 years and over are not seasonally adjusted.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

The labor force participation rate for people 65 years and over has been trending up for more than 30 years. The rate was 28.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 1948, before showing a downward trend in the years that followed. The participation rate for this group reached a low of 10.7 percent for three nonconsecutive quarters from 1985 to 1987, before it began to increase. This upward trend continued during both the Great Recession and the economic expansion that followed. The labor force participation rate for workers age 65 and over reached 20.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, the highest rate since 1961.

The labor force participation rate for people in the prime working age of 25 to 54 was 82.8 percent in 2019. The number of employed people in this age group increased by 753,000, and their unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 percentage point, to 3.0 percent. For 25- to 54-year-olds, the jobless rates edged down over the year to 2.9 percent for men and changed little for women (3.1 percent).

For women in the prime-working-age group, the labor force participation rate rose by 0.9 percentage point, to 76.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, and the employment–population ratio increased by 1.1 percentage points, to 74.3 percent. For prime-working-age men, these indicators were little changed.

The unemployment rate for young adults (age 20 to 24) decreased by 0.6 percentage point, to 6.3 percent. For teenagers (age 16 to 19), the unemployment rate was little changed over the year, at 12.3 percent, almost twice the rate for young adults. (See table 2.)

The labor force participation rate for people age 16 to 24 was 56.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, an increase of 0.9 percentage point from a year earlier. Much of this increase was among 20- to 24-year-olds. Overall, employment among younger workers (those age 16 to 24) increased by 307,000 in 2019, and their employment–population ratio rose by 1.1 percentage points, to 51.5 percent.

Unemployment rates decreased for workers with less education

Among workers age 25 and over, unemployment rates tend to be lower for people with more education.6 The unemployment rate for people with a bachelor’s degree and higher was 2.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, less than half the unemployment rate for people with less than a high school diploma (5.3 percent).

The unemployment rate for those with some college or associate’s degree declined by 0.4 percentage point, to 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, representing the lowest level since the first quarter of 2001, when it was also 2.8 percent. The jobless rate for people with less than a high school diploma reached a series low of 5.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019, but the rate changed little in the fourth quarter. The unemployment rates for high school graduates, no college (3.7 percent), and for those with a bachelor’s degree and higher (2.0 percent) were little changed, compared with the previous year. (See table 4 and figure 4.)

Table 4. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 25 years and older, by educational attainment, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

CharacteristicFourth quarter, 20182019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter
Less than a high school diploma
Civilian labor force10,24710,1429,9729,9719,813-434
Participation rate46.846.145.146.746.7-0.1
Employed9,6599,5749,4399,4599,288-371
Employment–population ratio 44.243.542.744.344.20.0
Unemployed588568533512525-63
Unemployment rate5.75.65.35.15.3-0.4
High school graduates, no college
Civilian labor force36,05236,18535,96436,31436,178126
Participation rate57.858.257.757.658.10.3
Employed34,69434,83734,65735,00634,848154
Employment–population ratio 55.656.055.655.555.90.3
Unemployed1,3581,3481,3071,3081,331-27
Unemployment rate3.83.73.63.63.7-0.1
Some college or associate’s degree
Civilian labor force37,39737,27637,40837,46137,524127
Participation rate65.465.364.965.264.8-0.6
Employed36,21636,04236,30136,32136,466250
Employment–population ratio 63.363.263.063.262.9-0.4
Unemployed1,1811,2341,1071,1401,057-124
Unemployment rate3.23.33.03.02.8-0.4
Bachelor’s degree and higher
Civilian labor force58,23458,44658,37458,90959,8051,571
Participation rate73.473.673.873.873.80.4
Employed56,98457,16557,14457,68058,6161,632
Employment–population ratio 71.972.072.372.372.30.4
Unemployed1,2501,2811,2301,2291,190-60
Unemployment rate2.12.22.12.12.0-0.1
Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

PercentFigure 4. Unemployment rates for people 25 years and over by educationalattainment, seasonally adjusted, fourth quarter 2018 and fourth quarter 20194th quarter of 20184th quarter of 2019Total, 25 years andolderLess than a highschool diplomaHigh schoolgraduate, no collegeSome college orassociate’s degreeBachelor’s degreeand higher01234567Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Number of job leavers trended up, while long-term unemployment edged down

There were 5.8 million people classified as unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2019. Unemployed people are grouped by their reasons for unemployment. People are currently unemployed because they either (1) were on temporary layoff, permanently lost their job, or completed a temporary job (referred to as job losers); (2) voluntarily left their job (job leavers); (3) reentered the labor force (reentrants); or (4) entered the labor force for the first time (new entrants).

The number of unemployed people who lost their job or who completed temporary jobs was 2.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. This data series reached a peak of 9.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 and steadily declined throughout the economic expansion. The last time there were fewer unemployed people because of job losses or completion of temporary jobs was in the fourth quarter of 2000, when there were 2.5 million people in this category. The number of reentrants—unemployed people who previously worked but were out of the labor force before they began their job search—decreased by 258,000 over the year, to 1.7 million in the fourth quarter. The number of job leavers (people who voluntarily left their job) was 817,000 in the fourth quarter of 2019, and the number of new entrants was 585,000. (See table 5 and figure 5.)

Table 5. Unemployed people, by reason and duration of unemployment, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

CharacteristicFourth quarter, 20182019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter
Reason for unemployment
Job losers and people who completed temporary jobs2,8722,9162,6932,7452,727-145
On temporary layoff810878797790782-28
Not on temporary layoff2,0632,0391,8961,9551,945-118
Permanent job losers1,3681,3651,3231,3551,325-43
People who completed temporary jobs695674573600619-76
Job leavers75681280981981761
Reentrants1,9301,9491,8661,7491,672-258
New entrants594610558615585-9
Percent distribution
Job losers and people who completed temporary jobs46.746.445.446.347.00.3
On temporary layoff13.214.013.513.313.50.3
Not on temporary layoff33.532.432.033.033.50.0
Job leavers12.312.913.613.814.11.8
Reentrants31.431.031.529.528.8-2.6
New entrants9.79.79.410.410.10.4
Duration of unemployment
Less than 5 weeks2,1162,2012,0052,1032,023-93
5 to 14 weeks1,8861,8731,7461,7731,743-143
15 weeks or longer2,1812,2022,1322,0952,075-106
15 to 26 weeks869921819849854-15
27 weeks or longer1,3121,2811,3131,2461,221-91
Average (mean) duration in weeks22.121.623.021.220.9-1.2
Median duration, in weeks9.29.39.39.19.1-0.1
Percent distribution
Less than 5 weeks34.235.134.135.234.60.4
5 to 14 weeks30.529.829.729.729.8-0.7
15 weeks or longer35.335.136.235.135.50.2
15 to 26 weeks14.114.713.914.214.60.5
27 weeks or longer21.220.422.320.920.9-0.3
Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

ThousandsFigure 5. Number of unemployed people, by reason for unemployment,quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 1994–2019Job losersJob LeaversReentrantsNew entrants19941999200420092014201902,0004,0006,0008,00010,000Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterlyturning points). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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The number of people experiencing long-term unemployment (those who had been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer) edged down by 91,000 in 2019. In the fourth quarter of 2019, 1.2 million people were long-term unemployed, representing 20.9 percent of the total unemployed. The proportion of long-term unemployed remained higher than it was before the 2007–09 recession (17.8 percent in the third quarter of 2007), but it was much lower in 2019 than it had been during the recession. This proportion peaked at 45.1 percent in the second quarter of 2010. The proportion of people unemployed for even longer periods (52 weeks or more) also remained higher than before the recession. In the fourth quarter of 2019, 12.8 percent of the unemployed had been looking for work for 52 weeks or longer, and 5.2 percent had searched for a job for 99 weeks or longer. Before the recession, the percentage of the unemployed who had been looking for work for 52 weeks or longer was 9.9 percent, and those who had been looking for 99 weeks or longer was 3.3 percent. These measures reached peaks of 31.9 percent and 15.1 percent, respectively, in 2011. (Data for those unemployed for 52 weeks or longer and 99 weeks or longer are not seasonally adjusted.) (See figure 6.)

PercentFigure 6. Long-term unemployed as a percentage of total unemployed,quarterly averages, 1994–2019Unemployed for 27 weeks or longerUnemployed for 52 weeks or longerUnemployed for 99 weeks or longer199419961999200120042006200920112014201620190204060Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterly turningpoints). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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The number of involuntary part-time workers decreased

People who work part time for economic reasons, often referred to as involuntary part-time workers, are those who worked for less than 35 hours per week but would have preferred full-time employment.7 They worked a reduced number of hours because of unfavorable business conditions (slack work), or else they worked part time because they could not find a full-time job. Involuntary part-time workers are often described as underemployed.8 (See figure 7.)

ThousandsFigure 7. Number of people employed part time for economic reasons,quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 1994–2019Part time for economic reasonsSlack work or business conditionsCould only find part-time work1994199619992001200420062009201120142016201902,5005,0007,50010,000Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterly turningpoints). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Over the year, the number of involuntary part-time workers decreased by 391,000, to 4.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, representing 2.7 percent of total employment. During the 2007–09 recession, the share of involuntary part-time workers increased, reaching a peak of 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009; but in 2019, the share fell to below its prerecession level. The percentage of involuntary part-time workers had not been lower since the second quarter of 2001. The number of people who could only find part-time work declined by 247,000, to 1.3 million in 2019, while the number of involuntary part-time workers because of slack work or business conditions declined by 193,000, to 2.7 million.

Employment increased and unemployment rates decreased for the major occupational groups

Unemployment rates declined for service occupations; natural resources, construction and maintenance occupations; and management, professional, and related occupations in 2019. The rates for sales and office occupations and production, transportation, and material moving occupations changed little over the year.9 The jobless rate for service occupations was 4.4 percent, 0.4 percentage point lower than in 2018. The rate for natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations was 4.7 percent, which also was a decline of 0.4 percentage point. The rate for management, professional, and related occupations was 2.0 percent. This was the lowest unemployment rate among the five major occupational categories. (See table 6.)

Table 6. Unemployment rates, by occupational group and gender, annual averages, 2018–19

Occupational groupTotalMenWomen
20182019Change, 2018–1920182019Change, 2018–1920182019Change, 2018–19
Management, professional, and related occupations2.12.0-0.12.01.8-0.22.22.1-0.1
Management, business, and financial operations occupations2.01.8-0.21.91.7-0.22.12.0-0.1
Professional and related occupations2.22.1-0.12.12.0-0.12.32.2-0.1
Service occupations4.84.4-0.45.14.8-0.34.64.2-0.4
Health care support occupations3.43.1-0.33.02.8-0.23.53.2-0.3
Protective service occupations2.72.90.22.62.3-0.33.04.81.8
Food preparation and serving related occupations6.15.5-0.66.76.1-0.65.65.0-0.6
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations5.55.1-0.45.85.6-0.24.94.4-0.5
Personal care and service occupations4.33.9-0.43.94.40.54.43.7-0.7
Sales and office occupations3.83.7-0.13.63.5-0.14.03.8-0.2
Sales and related occupations4.13.8-0.33.32.9-0.44.84.7-0.1
Office and administrative support occupations3.63.60.04.24.30.13.43.3-0.1
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations5.14.7-0.44.94.4-0.58.29.00.8
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations9.29.60.48.07.7-0.312.614.82.2
Construction and extraction occupations6.05.2-0.86.05.1-0.96.46.1-0.3
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations2.62.60.02.62.5-0.14.13.7-0.4
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations4.54.3-0.24.34.2-0.15.34.9-0.4
Production occupations4.03.9-0.13.73.70.04.84.5-0.3
Transportation and material moving occupations5.04.7-0.34.84.5-0.35.95.4-0.5
Note: The unemployed are classified by occupation according to their last job, which may or may not be similar to the job they are currently looking for.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

Employment expanded by 2.9 percent in management, professional, and related occupations; this occupation group accounted for 40.8 percent of total employment in 2019. In fact, employment growth from 2018 to 2019 in management, professional, and related occupations accounted for nearly all of the increase in total employment. (See table 7.)

Table 7. Employment, by occupational group and gender, annual averages, 2018–19 (in thousands)

Occupational groupTotalMenWomen
20182019Change, 2018–1920182019Change, 2018–1920182019Change, 2018–19
Total, 16 years and over155,761157,5381,77782,69883,46076273,06374,0781,015
Management, professional, and related occupations62,43664,2181,78230,28730,95066332,14933,2671,118
Management, business, and financial operations occupations25,85026,9811,13114,46415,07260811,38711,909522
Professional and related occupations36,58637,23765115,82315,8795620,76321,358595
Service occupations26,85426,97812411,41611,4452915,43915,53495
Health care support occupations3,6293,758129469491223,1613,267106
Protective service occupations3,2033,128-752,4832,437-46720692-28
Food preparation and serving related occupations8,2208,3781583,6553,8081534,5654,5694
Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations5,8545,746-1083,4343,332-1022,4212,413-8
Personal care and service occupations5,9475,968211,3751,37614,5724,59220
Sales and office occupations33,46133,370-9113,00813,14814020,45320,222-231
Sales and related occupations15,80615,582-2247,9997,979-207,8077,602-205
Office and administrative support occupations17,65517,7891345,0105,16915912,64612,620-26
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations14,47114,343-12813,72613,569-15774577429
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations1,1211,156358488651727329118
Construction and extraction occupations8,3388,325-138,0538,033-202852927
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations5,0124,862-1504,8254,671-1541871914
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations18,53918,6288914,26114,348874,2784,2813
Production occupations8,6218,565-566,1406,115-252,4802,450-30
Transportation and material moving occupations9,91810,0631458,1218,2331121,7971,83134
Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

Unemployment rate for veterans unchanged over the year

There were 18.7 million veterans in the civilian noninstitutional population in the fourth quarter of 2019. Nearly half of these veterans were in the labor force. Veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era account for the largest share of the veteran population, at 7.1 million, followed by veterans who served during Gulf War-era II (4.4 million), and those who served during Gulf War-era I (3.1 million). Among veterans, women accounted for about 10 percent of the total veteran population in the fourth quarter of 2019.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, the unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) for veterans was 3.1 percent, about unchanged from the previous year. The unemployment rate for nonveterans decreased by 0.3 percentage point over the year, to 3.2 percent.10 The jobless rate for Gulf War-era II veterans (those who served from September 2001 to the present), at 3.8 percent, was little different from a year earlier. The unemployment rates for male (2.9 percent) and female (4.2 percent) veterans were little changed in the fourth quarter of 2019, compared with the 2018 rates. (See table 8.)

Table 8. Employment status of people 18 years and older, by veteran status, period of service, and gender, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

Employment status, veteran status, and period of serviceTotalMenWomen
Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
Veterans, 18 years and older
Civilian labor force9,3889,187-20182428,094-1481,1461,092-54
Participation rate49.349.2-0.148.048.20.261.257.8-3.4
Employed9,1038,905-1987,9887,859-1291,1141,046-68
Employment–
population ratio
47.847.7-0.146.546.80.359.555.3-4.2
Unemployed285282-3254236-18324614
Unemployment rate3.03.10.13.12.9-0.22.74.21.5
Gulf War-era II veterans
Civilian labor force3,4373,464272,9232,942195145228
Participation rate81.779.2-2.583.881.7-2.171.767.5-4.2
Employed3,3203,333132,8232,84724497486-11
Employment–
population ratio
78.976.2-2.780.979.1-1.869.362.9-6.4
Unemployed1161301410095-5173518
Unemployment rate3.43.80.43.43.2-0.23.36.83.5
Gulf War-era I veterans
Civilian labor force2,4012,305-962,0431,984-59358321-37
Participation rate77.674.7-2.978.575.8-2.773.068.7-4.3
Employed2,3352,241-941,9831,925-58352316-36
Employment–
population ratio
75.472.7-2.776.173.6-2.571.867.6-4.2
Unemployed6664-26059-165-1
Unemployment rate2.82.80.03.03.00.01.71.6-0.1
World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans
Civilian labor force1,5651,459-10615051,412-936047-13
Participation rate21.020.7-0.320.920.7-0.223.419.2-4.2
Employed1,5251,417-10814661,370-965947-12
Employment–
population ratio
20.420.1-0.320.320.1-0.223.119.1-4.0
Unemployed404223942310-1
Unemployment rate2.62.90.32.62.90.31.50.4-1.1
Veterans of other service periods
Civilian labor force1,9851,959-261,7711,757-14214202-12
Participation rate46.347.10.845.646.81.252.249.9-2.3
Employed1,9231,914-91,7171,7170206197-9
Employment–
population ratio
44.846.01.244.245.71.550.348.6-1.7
Unemployed6246-165541-1485-3
Unemployment rate3.12.3-0.83.12.3-0.83.62.5-1.1
Nonveterans, 18 years and older
Civilian labor force151,198153,0281,83076,80177,65685574,39875,371973
Participation rate65.565.90.474.374.30.058.458.90.5
Employed145,900148,0802,18074,04875,0851,03771,85172,9951,144
Employment–
population ratio
63.263.70.571.671.90.356.457.10.7
Unemployed5,2994,948-3512,7522,571-1812,5462,377-169
Unemployment rate3.53.2-0.33.63.3-0.33.43.2-0.2
Note: Veterans are men and women who previously served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were not on active duty at the time of the survey. Nonveterans never served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans could have served anywhere in the world during these periods of service: Gulf War-era II (September 2001–present), Gulf War-era I (August 1990–August 2001), Vietnam era (August 1964–April 1975), Korean War (July 1950–January 1955), World War II (December 1941–December 1946), and other service periods (all other time periods). Veterans are only counted in one period of service, their most recent wartime period. Veterans who served in both a wartime period and any other service period are classified in the wartime period.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

In the fourth quarter of 2019, 49.2 percent of veterans participated in the labor force, while 65.9 percent of nonveterans participated in the labor force. The labor force participation rate of veterans was little changed from a year earlier, while the rate for nonveterans increased by 0.4 percentage point over the year. Labor force participation rates—for veterans and nonveterans—tend to be lower for older people than they are for people of prime working age. For instance, the labor force participation rate for those who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era—who are all over age 60 and accounted for 38 percent of the veteran population—was 20.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, little changed from 2018. In contrast, Gulf War-era II veterans—who tend to be younger—had a much higher participation rate, 79.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, down 2.5 percentage points from a year earlier.

Unemployment rate for persons with a disability continued to be twice that of those with no disability

Most labor market indicators for persons with a disability changed little in 2019. Among the 30.4 million persons age 16 and over with a disability in the fourth quarter of 2019, 6.3 million, or 20.6 percent, participated in the labor force. This was much lower than the rate those with no disability, 68.8 percent. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.) The lower participation rate for persons with a disability reflects, in part, the older age profile of those with a disability; older people, regardless of disability status, are less likely to be in the labor force. About half of all persons with a disability were age 65 and over, 3 times the share of those with no disability. The labor force participation rate for persons with a disability changed little, while the rate for persons with no disability increased over the year.11 (See table 9.)

Table 9. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population, by gender, age, and disability status, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

Employment status, gender, and agePersons with a disabilityPersons with no disability
Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
Total, 16 years and older
Civilian labor force6,3846,256-128156,248158,0671,819
Participation rate21.120.6-0.568.468.80.4
Employed5,8955,824-71150,921153,0152,094
Employment–
population ratio
19.419.2-0.266.166.60.5
Unemployed490432-585,3275,052-275
Unemployment rate7.76.9-0.83.43.2-0.2
Men, 16 to 64 years
Civilian labor force2,7002,7303077,68377,958275
Participation rate35.736.00.382.482.80.4
Employed2,4832,5254274,92175,382461
Employment–
population ratio
32.933.30.479.580.10.6
Unemployed217205-122,7622,576-186
Unemployment rate8.07.5-0.53.63.3-0.3
Women, 16 to 64 years
Civilian labor force2,4862,306-18069,49470,322828
Participation rate31.630.8-0.871.672.40.8
Employed2,2672,125-14267,17168,090919
Employment–
population ratio
28.928.4-0.569.270.10.9
Unemployed219181-382,3232,232-91
Unemployment rate8.87.9-0.93.33.2-0.1
Total, 65 years and over
Civilian labor force1,1991,219209,0719,787716
Participation rate8.08.00.024.525.61.1
Employed1,1451,173288,8299,543714
Employment–
population ratio
7.77.70.023.824.91.1
Unemployed5446-82432441
Unemployment rate4.53.8-0.72.72.5-0.2
Note: A person with a disability has at least one of the following conditions: is deaf or has serious difficulty hearing; is blind or has serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses; has serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition; has serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; has difficulty dressing or bathing; or has difficulty doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

The unemployment rate for persons with a disability, at 6.9 percent in the last quarter of 2019, was more than double the rate of persons without a disability (3.2 percent). The jobless rate for persons with a disability has been trending down for several years.

Unemployment rate of foreign born was lower than that of native born

The foreign born accounted for 17.2 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force age 16 and over in the fourth quarter of 2019.12 The unemployment rate for foreign-born people declined to 2.8 percent over the year, and the rate for native-born people declined to 3.5 percent. (Data are not seasonally adjusted.) (See table 10.)

Table 10. Employment status of the foreign- and native-born populations by gender, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2018–19 (levels in thousands)

Employment status and nativityTotalMenWomen
Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
Foreign born, 16 years and older
Civilian labor force28,49528,207-28816,24716,044-20312,24912,163-86
Participation rate66.166.30.277.978.00.155.055.30.3
Employed27,57727,420-15715,78215,652-13011,79511,769-26
Employment–
population ratio
64.064.40.475.776.10.453.053.50.5
Unemployed918787-131464392-72454395-59
Unemployment rate3.22.8-0.42.92.4-0.53.73.2-0.5
Native born, 16 years and older
Civilian labor force134,137136,1161,97969,72470,68596164,41365,4301,017
Participation rate62.262.60.466.967.20.357.958.30.4
Employed129,239131,4182,17967,05968,1341,07562,17963,2841,105
Employment–
population ratio
59.960.40.564.364.80.555.956.40.5
Unemployed4,8984,698-2002,6642,551-1132,2342,147-87
Unemployment rate3.73.5-0.23.83.6-0.23.53.3-0.2
Note: The foreign born are those residing in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth. That is, they were born outside the United States or one of its outlying areas, such as Puerto Rico or Guam, to parents who were not U.S. citizens. This group includes legally admitted immigrants, refugees, students, temporary workers, and undocumented immigrants. The survey data, however, do not separately identify the number of people in these categories. The native born are people who were born in the United States or one of its outlying areas, such as Puerto Rico or Guam, or who were born abroad of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

Foreign-born people continued to have a higher labor force participation rates than native-born people in 2019. The labor force participation rate for the foreign born, at 66.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, was little changed over the year. The participation rate for the native born increased by 0.4 percentage point, to 62.6 percent.

Fewer people not participating in the labor force

People who are not employed or unemployed are classified as not in the labor force.13 The majority of people who are not in the labor force do not want a job, although a small percentage (5.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019) of this group do want a job but had not sought employment in the 4 weeks preceding the survey reference period. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the number of people who were not in the labor force edged down to 95.6 million. (See table 11.)

Table 11. Number of people not in the labor force, fourth quarter averages, seasonally adjusted, 2015–19 (in thousands)

CategoryFourth quarter, 2015Fourth quarter, 2016Fourth quarter, 2017Fourth quarter, 2018Fourth quarter, 2019Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
Total not in the labor force94,18694,86995,46695,91195,581-330
Persons who currently want a job5,8525,8045,2405,3584,807-551
Marginally attached to the labor force(1)1,8221,7711,5441,5751,243-332
Discouraged workers(2)631493481437310-127
Notes:

(1) Data refer to people who want a job, have searched for work during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the reference week, but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks.

(2) Includes those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for reasons such as thinks no work available, could not find work, lacks schooling or training, employer thinks too young or old, and other types of discrimination.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

People who were not in the labor force were considered marginally attached to the labor force if they wanted a job, were available for work, and had looked for work sometime in the prior 12 months (but not in the last 4 weeks before the survey). In the fourth quarter of 2019, 1.2 million people were marginally attached to the labor force, 332,000 less than a year earlier. (See figure 8.)

ThousandsFigure 8. People not in the labor force, quarterly averages, 1995–2019People who currently want a jobMarginally attached to the labor forceDiscouraged workers199519971999200120032005200720092011201320152017201902,0004,0006,0008,000Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterly turningpoints). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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A subset of the marginally attached are discouraged workers—people not currently looking for work because they are discouraged over their job prospects.14 In the fourth quarter of 2019, there were 310,000 discouraged workers, which was 127,000 less than the number of such workers in 2018.

These subsets of people not in the labor force—people who currently want a job, the marginally attached, and discouraged workers—have followed a similar trend in recent years. These measures increased during the Great Recession and its aftermath and then began to trend downwards. The number of people not in the labor force who wanted a job peaked in 2012, the number of marginally attached peaked in 2011, and the number of discouraged workers peaked in 2010. All three measures have returned to levels similar to what they had been before the 2007–09 recession.

Alternative measures of labor underutilization

Six alternative measures of labor underutilization have long been available on a monthly basis from the Current Population Survey (CPS) for the United States as a whole. The official concept of unemployment (as measured in the CPS by U-3 in the U-1 to U-6 range of alternatives) includes all jobless people who are available to take a job and have actively sought work in the past 4 weeks. The other measures are provided to data users and analysts who want more narrowly defined measures (U-1 and U-2) or more broadly defined measures (U-4 through U-6).

  • U-1: persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percentage of the civilian labor force;
  • U-2: job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percentage of the civilian labor force;
  • U-3: total unemployed, as a percentage of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate);
  • U-4: total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percentage of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers;
  • U-5: total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percentage of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force; and
  • U-6: total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percentage of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.

Discouraged workers (U-4, U-5, and U-6 measures) are people who are not in the labor force, want and are available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the 12 months before the survey reference period. They are not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the prior 4 weeks and they believed no jobs were available for them. The marginally attached (U-5 and U-6 measures) are a group that includes discouraged workers. The criteria for the marginally attached are the same as for discouraged workers, with the exception that any reason could have been cited for the lack of job search in the prior 4 weeks. People employed part time for economic reasons (U-6 measure) are those working less than 35 hours per week who want to work full time, are available to do so, and gave an economic reason (their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job) for working part time. These individuals are sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers.

In 2019, U-6 declined by 0.7 percentage point, to 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter, and U-5 decreased by 0.4 percentage point, to 4.3 percent. Measures U-2, U-4, U-5, and U-6 were at their lowest levels reported since these measures were introduced in 1994. There has not been a lower rate for U-1 since the second quarter of 2001. (See figure 9.)

PercentFigure 9. Measures of labor underutilization, quarterly averages, seasonallyadjusted, 1994–2019U-1U-2U-3U-4U-5U-61994199920042009201420190369121518Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterlyturning points). Measures of labor underutlization are as follows: U–1 = people unemployed 15 weeks or longer,as a percentage of the civilian labor force; U–2 = job losers and people who completed temporary jobs, as apercentage of the civilian labor force; U–3 = total unemployed, as a percentage of the civilian labor force (officialunemployment rate); U–4 = total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percentage of the civilian laborforce plus discouraged workers; U–5 = total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other marginallyattached workers, as a percentage of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers; U–6 = totalunemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, asa percentage of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Fewer people found employment in the month after being unemployed

In the CPS, for any given month, a person can be classified in one of three labor force categories: employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force. A person’s labor force status can change or remain the same from month to month. For example, an unemployed person could become employed, or an employed person could leave the labor force. In 2019, 15.5 million people, or 6.0 percent of the population age 16 and older, changed their labor status in an average month. This represents the lowest annual rate of labor market churn for data on labor force status flows since 1990.

The CPS data on labor force flows provide a more detailed look at changes in the unemployment rate.15 In December 2019, 27.6 percent of the unemployed found jobs in the next month. (Data are seasonally adjusted 3-month moving averages.) This was slightly lower than a year earlier, when 28.5 percent found employment in the month after being unemployed. Among those unemployed who did not find employment in the following month, 48.0 percent remained unemployed and 24.4 percent left the labor force. (See figure 10.)

PercentFigure 10. Percentage of the unemployed who found employment, remainedunemployed, or left the labor force, 3-month moving average, seasonallyadjusted, April 1990–December 2019Found employmentLeft the labor forceRemained unemployed19901992199319951997199920012003200420062008201020122014201520172019020406080Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Note: Shaded areas represent recessions as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research (quarterly turningpoints). Q1 = first quarter, Q2 = second quarter, Q3 = third quarter, and Q4 = fourth quarter.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Earnings grew 3.5 percent from 2018 to 2019

As most economic indicators pointed to a strong labor market in 2019, many economists continued to look for signs of acceleration in wage growth. As measured by the CPS, median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers increased by 3.5 percent to $917 in 2019.16 (Data are annual averages and are in current dollars.) From 2018 to 2019, women’s weekly earnings grew at a higher rate (4.1 percent) than men’s weekly earnings (3.5 percent). Women’s median weekly earnings were $821 in 2019, or 81.5 percent of men’s, at $1,007. (See table 12 and figure 11.)

Table 12. Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by selected characteristics, annual averages, 2018–19

Characteristic20182019Percent change, 2018–19
Total, 16 years and older$886$9173.5
CPI-U (1982–1984 = 100)251.1255.71.8
Men$973$1,0073.5
Women7898214.1
White9169453.2
Men1,0021,0363.4
Women8178402.8
Black or African American6947355.9
Men7357694.6
Women6547047.6
Asian1,0951,1747.2
Men1,2411,3367.7
Women9371,0259.4
Hispanic or Latino ethnicity6807063.8
Men7207473.8
Women6176424.1
Total, 25 years and older9329694.0
Less than a high school diploma5535927.1
High school graduate, no college7307462.2
Some college or associate’s degree8268563.6
Bachelor’s degree or higher1,3241,3673.2
Note: CPI-U = Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. Persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey and Consumer Price Index.

PercentFigure 11. Women’s median usual weekly earnings as a percentage of men’s,full-time wage and salary workers, annual averages, 1979–201919791983198719911995199920032007201120152019606570758085Hover over chart to view data.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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Earnings varied by age and gender. For both men and women, earnings were lowest for those age 16 to 24, followed by 25- to 34-year-olds. Earnings of those age 35 to 64 were fairly similar, ranging from $1,149 to $1,166 for men and $880 to $920 for women. The women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio was higher among younger workers than among older workers. For example, the ratio was 89.0 percent for 16- to 24-year-olds and 75.5 percent among 45- to 54-year-olds. (See figure 12.)

DollarsFigure 12. Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, byage and gender, annual averages, 2019MenWomenTotal, 16 andover16 to 2425 to 3435 to 4445 to 5455 to 6465 and over02004006008001,0001,200Click legend items to change data display. Hover over chart to view data.Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

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In 2019, median weekly earnings among the major race and ethnicity groups continued to be higher for Asians ($1,174) and Whites ($945) than for Blacks ($735) and Hispanics ($706). From 2018 to 2019, Asians had the largest increase in earnings, at 7.2 percent, followed by Blacks, with an increase of 5.9 percent, and Hispanics, with an earnings increase of 3.8 percent. Earnings for Whites increased by 3.2 percent over the year.

The women’s-to-men’s earnings ratio varied by race and ethnicity. White women earned 81.1 percent as much as their male counterparts, compared with 91.5 percent for Black women, 76.7 percent for Asian women, and 85.9 percent for Hispanic women.

Earnings are positively correlated with educational attainment. Among full-time wage and salary workers age 25 and older, median usual weekly earnings rose for every educational attainment level from 2018 to 2019. Workers with a bachelor’s degree and higher had median weekly earnings of $1,367, an increase of 3.2 percent over the year. Those with some college or an associate degree had weekly earnings of $856 (a 3.6-percent increase), and earnings for high school graduates (no college) were $746 (a 2.2-percent increase). Workers with less than a high school diploma had the lowest weekly earnings, at $592; these workers had the largest percentage gain (7.1 percent) in earnings from 2018 to 2019.

Among the major occupational groups, people employed full time in management, professional, and related occupations had the highest median weekly earnings—$1,539 for men and $1,135 for women. Men ($659) and women ($537) employed in service occupations earned the least in 2019. (See table 13.)

Table 13. Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by occupation and gender, annual averages, 2018–19

Occupation and genderNumber of workers (in thousands)Median weekly earnings
2018201920182019Percent change, 2018–19
Total, 16 years and over115,567117,584$886$9173.5
Management, professional, and related occupations48,80850,1191,2461,3095.1
Management, business, and financial operations occupations19,86320,6961,3551,4154.4
Professional and related occupations28,94529,4231,1761,2375.2
Service occupations16,28816,5585695924.0
Sales and office occupations23,71423,8837427582.2
Sales and related occupations10,0779,9297988304.0
Office and administrative support occupations13,63713,9547177322.1
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations11,54611,6718248695.5
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations850900581574-1.2
Construction and extraction occupations6,4146,4678088667.2
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations4,2824,3049349390.5
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations15,21015,3537077272.8
Production occupations7,6687,7417237453.0
Transportation and material moving occupations7,5427,6126897113.2
Men, 16 years and over64,14265,0079731,0073.5
Management, professional, and related occupations23,68524,2601,4681,5394.8
Management, business, and financial operations occupations10,66811,1111,5371,5984.0
Professional and related occupations13,01713,1491,4251,4934.8
Service occupations7,9487,8986416592.8
Sales and office occupations9,5489,6958468743.3
Sales and related occupations5,6215,5259499823.5
Office and administrative support occupations3,9264,1707387714.5
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations11,03011,1348348815.6
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations667690602593-1.5
Construction and extraction occupations6,2236,2808098737.9
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations4,1404,1649369430.7
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations11,93212,0207627802.4
Production occupations5,6275,6687938142.6
Transportation and material moving occupations6,3056,3527247473.2
Women, 16 years and over51,42552,5777898214.1
Management, professional, and related occupations25,12325,8591,0781,1355.3
Management, business, and financial operations occupations9,1959,5851,1681,2214.5
Professional and related occupations15,92916,2741,0241,0856.0
Service occupations8,3408,6605115375.1
Sales and office occupations14,16614,1886967132.4
Sales and related occupations4,4554,4046516774.0
Office and administrative support occupations9,7119,7847117211.4
Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations516537638614-3.8
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations1832104835136.2
Construction and extraction occupations191187785711-9.4
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations1421408238503.3
Production, transportation, and material moving occupations3,2793,3345615935.7
Production occupations2,0412,0735755963.7
Transportation and material moving occupations1,2371,2605385868.9
Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

As measured by the CPS, real or inflation-adjusted median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers (also referred to as constant dollar usual weekly earnings) increased by 1.8 percentage points from 2018 to 2019.17

Summary

The economic expansion continued in 2019, making it the longest on record. The national unemployment rate declined to 3.5 percent, the lowest level since 1969. Both the labor force participation rate and the employment–population ratio increased from the previous year. Total employment expanded by 2.0 million in 2019, reaching 158.6 million by the end of the year. The unemployment rates for Blacks and Hispanics both fell to their lowest levels on record in 2019. The number of people working part time for economic reasons also declined over the year. Median usual weekly earnings increased to $917 in 2019; this was 3.5 percent higher than in 2018, which outpaced inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

SUGGESTED CITATION:

Roxanna Edwards and Sean M. Smith, “Job market remains tight in 2019, as the unemployment rate falls to its lowest level since 1969,” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2020, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2020.8.

Notes

1 The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the official arbiter of the beginning and ending dates of recessions and expansions in the United States. According to NBER, the most recent recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Or, in terms of quarters, the recession began in the fourth quarter of 2007 and ended in the second quarter of 2009. For the quarterly analysis in this article, the NBER-designated quarterly dates are used. According to NBER, the “trough” of a recession marks the beginning of an expansion, and the “peak” of an expansion marks the beginning of a recession. Therefore, as of December or the fourth quarter of 2019, the economic expansion had lasted for 126 months or 42 quarters, surpassing the economic expansion of March (first quarter) 1991 to March (first quarter) 2001, which lasted for 120 months (or 40 quarters) and had been the longest expansion on record. As a result, the most recent economic expansion is now the longest on record. For further analysis of the U.S. labor market during the Great Recession and the decade that followed, see Evan Cunningham, “Great Recession, great recovery? Trends from the Current Population Survey,” Monthly Labor Review, April 2018, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2018.10.

2 Although data from the CPS are published monthly, the data analyzed in this article are seasonally adjusted quarterly averages, and all over-the-year changes are comparisons of fourth-quarter 2018 data with fourth-quarter 2019 data, unless otherwise noted.

3 In the CPS, unemployed people are defined as those age 16 and over who were not employed during the survey reference week, had actively searched for work during the 4 weeks prior to the survey, and were available for work.

4 Effective with the release of data for January 2019, the household survey used updated population estimates. Each year, the U.S. Census Bureau updates its population estimates to reflect new information and assumptions about the growth of the population during the decade leading up to the decennial census. Following usual practice, BLS did not revise the official household survey estimates for December 2018 and earlier months. For additional information on the population adjustments and their effect on national labor force estimates, see “Adjustments to household survey population estimates in January 2019” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2019), https://www.bls.gov/cps/population-control-adjustments-2019.pdf.

5 People whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. In the CPS, about 90 percent of people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity are classified as White.

6 Educational attainment data are based on the highest degree received for people age 25 and over.

7 The measure “part time for economic reasons” is based on an individual’s actual hours at work during the survey reference week. An economic reason may include slack work, unfavorable business conditions, inability to find full-time work, or seasonal declines in demand. To be classified as involuntary part-time workers, people who usually work part time and worked part time during the survey reference week must indicate that they want and are available for full-time work. For more research on involuntary part-time workers, see, for example, Jonathan L. Willis, “Stuck in part-time employment,” The Macro Bulletin: Macroeconomic research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, January 18, 2017), https://www.kansascityfed.org/~/media/files/publicat/research/macrobulletins/mb17willis0118.pdf and Rob Valletta, “Involuntary part-time work: Yes, it’s here to stay,” SF Fed Blog (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, April 11, 2018), https://www.frbsf.org/our-district/about/sf-fed-blog/involuntary-part-time-work-here-to-stay/.

8 Some research has suggested that higher levels of involuntary part-time workers contribute to slower wage growth, as employers may be less likely to raise wages if they have part-time workers who would like more work at the prevailing wage. See David N. F. Bell and David G. Blanchflower, “Underemployment in the United States and Europe,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review (OnlineFirst), November 22, 2019, http://doi.org/10.1177/0019793919886527.

9 These data on unemployment rates by occupation are 2019 annual averages. The unemployed are classified by the occupation they held at their last job, which may or may not be similar to the job they are currently seeking.

10 In the CPS, veterans are defined as men and women 18 years and over who previously served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and who were civilians at the time the survey was conducted. Veterans are categorized as having served in the following periods of service: (1) Gulf War era II (September 2001 to the present), (2) Gulf War era I (August 1990 to August 2001), (3) World War II (December 1941 to December 1946), (4) Korean War (July 1950 to January 1955), (5) Vietnam era (August 1964 to April 1975), and (6) other service period (all other periods). Veterans who served in more than one wartime period are classified into only the most recent one. Veterans who served in both a wartime period and any other service period are classified in the wartime period.

11 Labor force statistics for people with and without a disability are available back to June 2008, the first month disability questions were added to the basic CPS.

12 The foreign born are people who reside in the United States but were born outside the country or outside one of its outlying areas, such as Puerto Rico or Guam, to parents who were not U.S. citizens. The foreign born include legally admitted immigrants; refugees; temporary residents, such as students and temporary workers; and undocumented immigrants.

13 For additional information, see Steven F. Hipple, “People who are not in the labor force: why aren’t they working?” Beyond the Numbers, December 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-4/people-who-are-not-in-the-labor-force-why-arent-they-working.htm.

14 Discouraged workers may indicate that no jobs are available for them; they lack education, training, or experience needed to find a job; or they believe they face some type of discrimination, such as being too young or too old.

15 For additional information and analyses, see Harley Frazis, “Employed workers leaving the labor force: an analysis of recent trends,” Monthly Labor Review, May 2017, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2017.16; Randy E. Ilg and Eleni Theodossiou, “Job search of the unemployed by duration of unemployment,” Monthly Labor Review, March 2012, pp. 41–49, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/03/art3full.pdf; and “Research series on labor force status flows from the Current Population Survey,” which is available at https://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_flows.htm.

16 Data are annual averages and are in current dollars. The CPS data on earnings represent earnings before taxes and other deductions and include any overtime pay, commissions, or tips typically received. For multiple jobholders, only earnings received at their main job are included. Earnings reported on a nonweekly basis are converted to a weekly equivalent. The term “usual” reflects each survey respondent’s understanding of the term. If the respondent asks for a definition of “usual,” interviewers are instructed to define the term as more than half the weeks worked during the past 4 or 5 months. Wage and salary workers are defined as those who receive wages, salaries, commissions, tips, payment in kind, or piece rates. This definition includes both public- and private-sector employees but excludes all self-employed people, regardless of whether their business is incorporated or unincorporated. Earnings comparisons made in this article are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences, such as job skills and responsibilities, work experience, and specialization. Finally, full-time workers are those who usually work 35 hours or more per week at their main job.

17 The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) is used to convert current dollars to constant (1982–84) dollars.

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Clint_JCC

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