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May Unemployment Data

May Unemployment Data

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for May stood at 5.5%, which was up from 5.4% in April.  (The national unemployment rate a year earlier had been around 6.3%.)  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 number of people not working or looking for work and people who want a full-time job but can only find part-time work was still the same as for the prior month at 10.8%.  The number of part-timers desiring full-time employment rose from 6.6 million to 6.7 million.

Employers added 280,000 jobs in May, 2015, 262,000 of which were in the private sector.  This figure was substantially more than had been expected by many economists and what had been seen in the previous couple of months.   The average hourly wage for workers in the private sector was almost $25, representing a 2.3% increase from a year earlier and the fastest rate increase in almost two years.

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 May this figure was 62.9 percent, representing almost no change for the past 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.

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