Learn more about how the government measures unemployment.
Quick link: Monthly unemployment rate, 1948 to present (This is the seasonally adjusted headline number published each month.)
Monthly data for 1940–1947 are not in the BLS database. For a graph of 1940–1947 monthly data (not seasonally adjusted), see figure 1 in the article on the history of the Current Population Survey. Click the link under the chart to view chart data. (Data for years before 1948 are not seasonally adjusted and refer to people 14 years and over. Data for 1948 and later years are seasonally adjusted and refer to people 16 years and over.)
Quick link: Annual unemployment data, 1940 to present (Note the change in age for years before 1948.)
Quick link: Annual unemployment data, 1929 to 1939 (Monthly data are not available for these years.)
Note that the 1929–1939 data do not come from the monthly household survey that provides the official unemployment rate. The official source of the nation's unemployment figures, the Current Population Survey (CPS), was not initiated until 1940. It was not until then that a consensus emerged among economists and statisticians about how unemployment should be defined and how the unemployment rate should be calculated. Learn more about the history of measuring unemployment in the CPS.
Unemployment estimates for the 1929–1939 period were originally developed by BLS in the 1940s using data from a variety of sources, as described in Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment, 1929–39: Estimating Methods. Essentially, the objective of the estimates for this period was to approximate the concepts used in the household survey, and to have a longer time series that would begin in 1929. The 1929–1939 estimates published in the 1948 article became "official" and were later loaded into the BLS online database. BLS does not have monthly estimates for the 1929–1939 period.
BLS does not have official statistics prior to the 1929 data.
Annual averages, and data from past months, can also be retrieved easily for any series in the monthly Employment Situation news release by using the menus displayed at www.bls.gov/cps/cpsatabs.htm. Please note that annual averages are only available for unadjusted (not seasonally adjusted) data.
Last Modified Date: May 4, 2020