According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate stood at 5.4%, which was down slightly from the prior month and the lowest level in seven years.  (The national unemployment rate a year earlier had been around 6.3%.)  The latest numbers show that the rate fell in the District of Columbia and forty-six states, rose in three states and was unchanged in one states from the previous month.  It ranged from as high as 7.7% in the District of Columbia to as low as 2.6% in Nebraska.  Regionally, the jobless rate ranged from 5.9% in the West to 5.0% in the Midwest.  Among different groups of workers, the rates were as low as 4.9% for women to as high as 17.1% for teenagers.  Since World War II, the national unemployment rate has averaged about 5.8%, dipping to as low as 2.5% in May of 1953 and rising as high as 10.8% in November of 1982.

The unemployment rates are the ones most often cited by news sources.  However, there are other measures provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics which also indicate the health of national employment. One of these is known as the “civilian labor force participation rate.”  In April this figure was 62.8 percent, representing no change for the last year and the lowest level it has experienced since the 1970s.

The problem with these statistics is that they measure different things and if not taken in proper context can convey misleading information about the true state of the national economy.  For example, the monthly unemployment number does not count people who have quit seeking work or underemployed workers.  Similarly, the civilian labor force participation rate does not accurately take into account the growing percentage of the adult population which is aging out of the work force.  Other ratios, such as employment-to-population of people in prime working age, as well as figures such as gross domestic product might give a more accurate indication of the status of the nation’s employment.