Unemployment: What 7.2% Really Means


By Ellen Simon — AP Business Writer

7.2 percent.

The headline unemployment rate for December is the number every TV newscaster, economic blogger and talk radio host focused on Friday. That rate, the highest in 16 years, translates into 11.1 million Americans without jobs.

But 7.2 percent doesn't capture how many people are out of work. By another measure — from the same employment report — as much as 13.5 percent of the labor force is either unemployed or underemployed.

The 7.2 figure everyone knows measures something very specific: the portion of people in the work force who wanted to work, looked for a job last month, but weren't working during the first week in December.

It's a tricky definition. It includes the stay-at-home mom who started sending out resumes when her husband's company had its second round of layoffs, but it doesn't count the out-of-work auto worker in Michigan who's so frustrated, she's given up looking.

It doesn't include 1.9 million unemployed people who looked for work in the last year, but not the last month. It doesn't include 8 million people working part-time either because they couldn't find full-time work or because their hours had been cut.

Add them in and you're looking at 21 million unemployed or underemployed workers, representing 13.5 percent of the labor force.

Deep in Friday's employment report, and in others from recent weeks, you'll find details like these that offer a fuller view of the American jobs landscape. Here are some highlights, by the numbers.



11.1 million: People unemployed in December 2008.

11.9 million: People unemployed in November 1982, the final month of the last recession of more than a year.

10.8 percent; 111.1 million: Unemployment rate and total work force in November 1982.

7.2 percent; 154.4 million: Unemployment rate and total work force in December 2008.

January 1993: Last time the unemployment rate was this high.

61.0 percent: Portion of the total population that had jobs in December.

January 1987: Last time the portion was this low.



7.2 percent: Adult men

5.9 percent: Adult women

9.5 percent: Female heads of households

5.1 percent: Asians

6.6 percent: Whites

9.2 percent: Hispanics

11.9 percent: Blacks

20.8 percent: Teenagers

15.3 percent: Construction workers

17 percent: Agriculture workers

2.3 percent: Government workers



4.9 percent: National unemployment rate in December 2007.

2.6 million: Jobs lost nationally in 2008.

1.9 million: Jobs lost in the last four months alone.

791,000: Factory jobs lost in 2008, roughly half of them in the last four months.

522,000: Retail jobs lost in 2008, more than half of them in the last four months.

22,000: Automobile dealership jobs lost in December alone.



2.6 million: People who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.

2.5 million: People who were trying re-enter the work force after leaving work for reasons such as parenthood or retirement.

1.9 million: People who wanted to work, were available for work and had looked for work in the last 12 months, but had not looked in the last month.

6.3 million: People working part-time because of slow work or business conditions.



33.3 hours: Length of the average workweek at private, non-farm businesses in December, the shortest since these records were first kept in 1964.

5 cents per hour: Average December increase in private, nonfarm pay. The increase, which is in inflation-adjusted dollars, is largely due to declining prices for consumer goods — not increases in actual take-home pay.



16: Minimum age to be included in the labor force. The numbers also don't include anyone who's in prison or other institutions, or in the armed forces.

15.7 percent: Portion of the labor force in 2007 that was foreign-born. The government doesn't ask about the legal status of workers in its employment surveys.

47.7 percent: Portion of the net increase in the labor force from 2000 to 2007 attributed to foreign-born workers.



60,000: Number of households interviewed in the monthly Census Bureau survey the unemployment rate is extrapolated from.

40 percent: Portion of companies in the survey of businesses, from which payroll and job loss numbers are extrapolated, with fewer than 20 employees.



23.4 percent: November unemployment rate for El Centro, Calif.

2.8 percent: November rate for Iowa City, Iowa.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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