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Article
April 2020

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

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; unemployment rate fell to 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.)

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)
Characteristic Fourth quarter, 2018 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarter Second quarter Third quarter Fourth quarter

Total, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

162,793 163,041 162,820 163,773 164,435 1,642

Participation rate

62.9 63.1 62.9 63.1 63.2 0.3

Employed

156,645 156,745 156,896 157,846 158,628 1,983

Employment–population ratio 

60.6 60.7 60.6 60.8 61.0 0.4

Unemployed

6,148 6,297 5,924 5,926 5,807 -341

Unemployment rate

3.8 3.9 3.6 3.6 3.5 -0.3

Men, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

86,264 86,461 86,398 86,824 87,018 754

Participation rate

68.9 69.2 69.0 69.2 69.2 0.3

Employed

83,006 83,042 83,190 83,650 83,942 936

Employment–population ratio 

66.3 66.5 66.4 66.7 66.7 0.4

Unemployed

3,258 3,419 3,208 3,174 3,076 -182

Unemployment rate

3.8 4.0 3.7 3.7 3.5 -0.3

Women, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

76,529 76,580 76,422 76,949 77,416 887

Participation rate

57.3 57.4 57.2 57.4 57.7 0.4

Employed

73,639 73,703 73,706 74,197 74,685 1,046

Employment–population ratio 

55.1 55.2 55.1 55.4 55.6 0.5

Unemployed

2,890 2,878 2,716 2,752 2,731 -159

Unemployment rate

3.8 3.8 3.6 3.6 3.5 -0.3

White

Civilian labor force

126,257 126,311 126,107 126,756 127,170 913

Participation rate

62.9 63.0 62.8 63.1 63.2 0.3

Employed

121,992 122,014 122,044 122,578 123,093 1,101

Employment–population ratio 

60.8 60.9 60.8 61.0 61.2 0.4

Unemployed

4,265 4,297 4,062 4,178 4,077 -188

Unemployment rate

3.4 3.4 3.2 3.3 3.2 -0.2

Black or African American

Civilian labor force

20,492 20,536 20,531 20,670 20,776 284

Participation rate

62.2 62.4 62.2 62.5 62.6 0.4

Employed

19,197 19,148 19,251 19,512 19,603 406

Employment–population ratio 

58.3 58.2 58.4 59.0 59.1 0.8

Unemployed

1,294 1,388 1,280 1,158 1,173 -121

Unemployment rate

6.3 6.8 6.2 5.6 5.6 -0.7

Asian

Civilian labor force

10,290 10,358 10,346 10,500 10,632 342

Participation rate

64.0 64.3 63.1 64.0 64.5 0.5

Employed

9,977 10,040 10,109 10,217 10,351 374

Employment–population ratio 

62.0 62.3 61.6 62.3 62.8 0.8

Unemployed

313 319 237 283 282 -31

Unemployment rate

3.0 3.1 2.3 2.7 2.7 -0.3

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

Civilian labor force

28,712 28,874 28,713 29,099 29,525 813

Participation rate

66.5 67.0 66.2 66.7 67.3 0.8

Employed

27,441 27,539 27,497 27,881 28,301 860

Employment–population ratio 

63.6 63.9 63.4 63.9 64.5 0.9

Unemployed

1,272 1,335 1,215 1,218 1,223 -49

Unemployment rate

4.4 4.6 4.2 4.2 4.1 -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.)

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.)

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)
Characteristic Fourth quarter, 2018 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarter Second quarter Third quarter Fourth quarter

Total, 16 to 24 years

Civilian labor force

20,897 20,988 21,061 21,150 21,134 237

Participation rate 

55.1 55.5 55.8 56.1 56.0 0.9

Employed

19,135 19,123 19,316 19,383 19,442 307

Employment–population ratio 

50.4 50.6 51.2 51.4 51.5 1.1

Unemployed

1,762 1,864 1,745 1,768 1,693 -69

Unemployment rate 

8.4 8.9 8.3 8.4 8.0 -0.4

Total, 16 to 19 years

Civilian labor force

5,934 5,856 5,790 5,947 5,970 36

Participation rate 

35.4 35.1 34.7 35.6 35.8 0.4

Employed

5,199 5,094 5,052 5,199 5,236 37

Employment–population ratio 

31.0 30.5 30.3 31.2 31.4 0.4

Unemployed

735 761 738 748 734 -1

Unemployment rate 

12.4 13.0 12.8 12.6 12.3 -0.1

Total, 20 to 24 years

Civilian labor force

14,963 15,132 15,271 15,203 15,164 201

Participation rate 

70.6 71.8 72.5 72.2 72.1 1.5

Employed

13,936 14,029 14,265 14,184 14,205 269

Employment–population ratio 

65.8 66.5 67.7 67.4 67.5 1.7

Unemployed

1,027 1,103 1,007 1,020 958 -69

Unemployment rate 

6.9 7.3 6.6 6.7 6.3 -0.6

Total, 25 to 54 years

Civilian labor force

104,080 104,120 103,813 104,082 104,669 589

Participation rate 

82.2 82.5 82.2 82.4 82.8 0.6

Employed

100,783 100,761 100,692 100,905 101,536 753

Employment–population ratio 

79.6 79.8 79.7 79.9 80.4 0.8

Unemployed

3,297 3,359 3,121 3,177 3,133 -164

Unemployment rate 

3.2 3.2 3.0 3.1 3.0 -0.2

Men, 25 to 54 years

Civilian labor force

55,546 55,639 55,370 55,468 55,632 86

Participation rate 

89.0 89.4 88.9 89.0 89.2 0.2

Employed

53,812 53,863 53,717 53,783 54,019 207

Employment–population ratio 

86.2 86.5 86.2 86.3 86.6 0.4

Unemployed

1,735 1,775 1,652 1,685 1,613 -122

Unemployment rate 

3.1 3.2 3.0 3.0 2.9 -0.2

Women, 25 to 54 years

Civilian labor force

48,534 48,482 48,443 48,614 49,037 503

Participation rate 

75.7 75.8 75.7 76.0 76.6 0.9

Employed

46,971 46,898 46,975 47,122 47,516 545

Employment–population ratio 

73.2 73.3 73.4 73.7 74.3 1.1

Unemployed

1,563 1,584 1,468 1,492 1,521 -42

Unemployment rate 

3.2 3.3 3.0 3.1 3.1 -0.1

Total, 55 years and over

Civilian labor force

37,825 37,996 37,910 38,503 38,642 817

Participation rate 

40.2 40.2 40.0 40.3 40.3 0.1

Employed

36,745 36,908 36,860 37,512 37,672 927

Employment–population ratio 

39.0 39.1 38.9 39.3 39.3 0.3

Unemployed

1,080 1,088 1,051 991 970 -110

Unemployment rate 

2.9 2.9 2.8 2.6 2.5 -0.4

Men, 55 years and over

Civilian labor force

20,147 20,221 20,269 20,541 20,616 469

Participation rate 

46.2 46.2 46.1 46.5 46.4 0.2

Employed

19,580 19,623 19,738 20,052 20,123 543

Employment–population ratio 

44.9 44.9 44.9 45.4 45.3 0.4

Unemployed

567 597 532 489 493 -74

Unemployment rate 

2.8 3.0 2.6 2.4 2.4 -0.4

Women, 55 years and over

Civilian labor force

17,673 17,768 17,652 17,953 18,028 355

Participation rate 

34.9 35.1 34.7 35.1 35.0 0.1

Employed

17,166 17,284 17,122 17,460 17,549 383

Employment–population ratio 

33.9 34.1 33.6 34.1 34.1 0.2

Unemployed

507 484 530 493 479 -28

Unemployment rate 

2.9 2.7 3.0 2.7 2.7 -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 gender Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, 2018–19

Total

16 years and over

62.9 63.2 0.3

16 to 24 years

55.1 56.0 0.9

16 to 19 years

35.4 35.8 0.4

20 to 24 years

70.6 72.1 1.5

25 to 54 years

82.2 82.8 0.6

25 to 34 years

82.7 83.4 0.7

35 to 44 years

82.9 83.3 0.4

45 to 54 years

81.1 81.7 0.6

55 years and over

40.2 40.3 0.1

55 to 64 years

65.3 65.5 0.2

65 years and over

19.8 20.5 0.7

Men

16 years and over

68.9 69.2 0.3

16 to 24 years

55.3 56.8 1.5

16 to 19 years

34.1 35.8 1.7

20 to 24 years

72.3 73.6 1.3

25 to 54 years

89.0 89.2 0.2

25 to 34 years

89.1 89.5 0.4

35 to 44 years

90.8 90.6 -0.2

45 to 54 years

87.1 87.3 0.2

55 years and over

46.2 46.4 0.2

55 to 64 years

71.6 71.5 -0.1

65 years and over

24.0 25.1 1.1

Women

16 years and over

57.3 57.7 0.4

16 to 24 years

54.8 55.2 0.4

16 to 19 years

36.7 35.7 -1.0

20 to 24 years

68.9 70.6 1.7

25 to 54 years

75.7 76.6 0.9

25 to 34 years

76.4 77.3 0.9

35 to 44 years

75.2 76.3 1.1

45 to 54 years

75.3 76.2 0.9

55 years and over

34.9 35.0 0.1

55 to 64 years

59.5 59.8 0.3

65 years and over

16.3 16.8 0.5

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)
Characteristic Fourth quarter, 2018 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarter Second quarter Third quarter Fourth quarter

Less than a high school diploma

Civilian labor force

10,247 10,142 9,972 9,971 9,813 -434

Participation rate

46.8 46.1 45.1 46.7 46.7 -0.1

Employed

9,659 9,574 9,439 9,459 9,288 -371

Employment–population ratio 

44.2 43.5 42.7 44.3 44.2 0.0

Unemployed

588 568 533 512 525 -63

Unemployment rate

5.7 5.6 5.3 5.1 5.3 -0.4

High school graduates, no college

Civilian labor force

36,052 36,185 35,964 36,314 36,178 126

Participation rate

57.8 58.2 57.7 57.6 58.1 0.3

Employed

34,694 34,837 34,657 35,006 34,848 154

Employment–population ratio 

55.6 56.0 55.6 55.5 55.9 0.3

Unemployed

1,358 1,348 1,307 1,308 1,331 -27

Unemployment rate

3.8 3.7 3.6 3.6 3.7 -0.1

Some college or associate’s degree

Civilian labor force

37,397 37,276 37,408 37,461 37,524 127

Participation rate

65.4 65.3 64.9 65.2 64.8 -0.6

Employed

36,216 36,042 36,301 36,321 36,466 250

Employment–population ratio 

63.3 63.2 63.0 63.2 62.9 -0.4

Unemployed

1,181 1,234 1,107 1,140 1,057 -124

Unemployment rate

3.2 3.3 3.0 3.0 2.8 -0.4

Bachelor’s degree and higher

Civilian labor force

58,234 58,446 58,374 58,909 59,805 1,571

Participation rate

73.4 73.6 73.8 73.8 73.8 0.4

Employed

56,984 57,165 57,144 57,680 58,616 1,632

Employment–population ratio 

71.9 72.0 72.3 72.3 72.3 0.4

Unemployed

1,250 1,281 1,230 1,229 1,190 -60

Unemployment rate

2.1 2.2 2.1 2.1 2.0 -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.

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)
Characteristic Fourth quarter, 2018 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19
First quarter Second quarter Third quarter Fourth quarter

Reason for unemployment

Job losers and people who completed temporary jobs

2,872 2,916 2,693 2,745 2,727 -145

On temporary layoff

810 878 797 790 782 -28

Not on temporary layoff

2,063 2,039 1,896 1,955 1,945 -118

Permanent job losers

1,368 1,365 1,323 1,355 1,325 -43

People who completed temporary jobs

695 674 573 600 619 -76

Job leavers

756 812 809 819 817 61

Reentrants

1,930 1,949 1,866 1,749 1,672 -258

New entrants

594 610 558 615 585 -9

Percent distribution

Job losers and people who completed temporary jobs

46.7 46.4 45.4 46.3 47.0 0.3

On temporary layoff

13.2 14.0 13.5 13.3 13.5 0.3

Not on temporary layoff

33.5 32.4 32.0 33.0 33.5 0.0

Job leavers

12.3 12.9 13.6 13.8 14.1 1.8

Reentrants

31.4 31.0 31.5 29.5 28.8 -2.6

New entrants

9.7 9.7 9.4 10.4 10.1 0.4

Duration of unemployment

Less than 5 weeks

2,116 2,201 2,005 2,103 2,023 -93

5 to 14 weeks

1,886 1,873 1,746 1,773 1,743 -143

15 weeks or longer

2,181 2,202 2,132 2,095 2,075 -106

15 to 26 weeks

869 921 819 849 854 -15

27 weeks or longer

1,312 1,281 1,313 1,246 1,221 -91

Average (mean) duration in weeks

22.1 21.6 23.0 21.2 20.9 -1.2

Median duration, in weeks

9.2 9.3 9.3 9.1 9.1 -0.1

Percent distribution

Less than 5 weeks

34.2 35.1 34.1 35.2 34.6 0.4

5 to 14 weeks

30.5 29.8 29.7 29.7 29.8 -0.7

15 weeks or longer

35.3 35.1 36.2 35.1 35.5 0.2

15 to 26 weeks

14.1 14.7 13.9 14.2 14.6 0.5

27 weeks or longer

21.2 20.4 22.3 20.9 20.9 -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.

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.)

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.)

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 group Total Men Women
2018 2019 Change, 2018–19 2018 2019 Change, 2018–19 2018 2019 Change, 2018–19

Management, professional, and related occupations

2.1 2.0 -0.1 2.0 1.8 -0.2 2.2 2.1 -0.1

Management, business, and financial operations occupations

2.0 1.8 -0.2 1.9 1.7 -0.2 2.1 2.0 -0.1

Professional and related occupations

2.2 2.1 -0.1 2.1 2.0 -0.1 2.3 2.2 -0.1

Service occupations

4.8 4.4 -0.4 5.1 4.8 -0.3 4.6 4.2 -0.4

Health care support occupations

3.4 3.1 -0.3 3.0 2.8 -0.2 3.5 3.2 -0.3

Protective service occupations

2.7 2.9 0.2 2.6 2.3 -0.3 3.0 4.8 1.8

Food preparation and serving related occupations

6.1 5.5 -0.6 6.7 6.1 -0.6 5.6 5.0 -0.6

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations

5.5 5.1 -0.4 5.8 5.6 -0.2 4.9 4.4 -0.5

Personal care and service occupations

4.3 3.9 -0.4 3.9 4.4 0.5 4.4 3.7 -0.7

Sales and office occupations

3.8 3.7 -0.1 3.6 3.5 -0.1 4.0 3.8 -0.2

Sales and related occupations

4.1 3.8 -0.3 3.3 2.9 -0.4 4.8 4.7 -0.1

Office and administrative support occupations

3.6 3.6 0.0 4.2 4.3 0.1 3.4 3.3 -0.1

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations

5.1 4.7 -0.4 4.9 4.4 -0.5 8.2 9.0 0.8

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

9.2 9.6 0.4 8.0 7.7 -0.3 12.6 14.8 2.2

Construction and extraction occupations

6.0 5.2 -0.8 6.0 5.1 -0.9 6.4 6.1 -0.3

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

2.6 2.6 0.0 2.6 2.5 -0.1 4.1 3.7 -0.4

Production, transportation, and material moving occupations

4.5 4.3 -0.2 4.3 4.2 -0.1 5.3 4.9 -0.4

Production occupations

4.0 3.9 -0.1 3.7 3.7 0.0 4.8 4.5 -0.3

Transportation and material moving occupations

5.0 4.7 -0.3 4.8 4.5 -0.3 5.9 5.4 -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 group Total Men Women
2018 2019 Change, 2018–19 2018 2019 Change, 2018–19 2018 2019 Change, 2018–19

Total, 16 years and over

155,761 157,538 1,777 82,698 83,460 762 73,063 74,078 1,015

Management, professional, and related occupations

62,436 64,218 1,782 30,287 30,950 663 32,149 33,267 1,118

Management, business, and financial operations occupations

25,850 26,981 1,131 14,464 15,072 608 11,387 11,909 522

Professional and related occupations

36,586 37,237 651 15,823 15,879 56 20,763 21,358 595

Service occupations

26,854 26,978 124 11,416 11,445 29 15,439 15,534 95

Health care support occupations

3,629 3,758 129 469 491 22 3,161 3,267 106

Protective service occupations

3,203 3,128 -75 2,483 2,437 -46 720 692 -28

Food preparation and serving related occupations

8,220 8,378 158 3,655 3,808 153 4,565 4,569 4

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations

5,854 5,746 -108 3,434 3,332 -102 2,421 2,413 -8

Personal care and service occupations

5,947 5,968 21 1,375 1,376 1 4,572 4,592 20

Sales and office occupations

33,461 33,370 -91 13,008 13,148 140 20,453 20,222 -231

Sales and related occupations

15,806 15,582 -224 7,999 7,979 -20 7,807 7,602 -205

Office and administrative support occupations

17,655 17,789 134 5,010 5,169 159 12,646 12,620 -26

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations

14,471 14,343 -128 13,726 13,569 -157 745 774 29

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

1,121 1,156 35 848 865 17 273 291 18

Construction and extraction occupations

8,338 8,325 -13 8,053 8,033 -20 285 292 7

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

5,012 4,862 -150 4,825 4,671 -154 187 191 4

Production, transportation, and material moving occupations

18,539 18,628 89 14,261 14,348 87 4,278 4,281 3

Production occupations

8,621 8,565 -56 6,140 6,115 -25 2,480 2,450 -30

Transportation and material moving occupations

9,918 10,063 145 8,121 8,233 112 1,797 1,831 34

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 service Total Men Women
Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19 Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19 Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19

Veterans, 18 years and older

Civilian labor force

9,388 9,187 -201 8242 8,094 -148 1,146 1,092 -54

Participation rate

49.3 49.2 -0.1 48.0 48.2 0.2 61.2 57.8 -3.4

Employed

9,103 8,905 -198 7,988 7,859 -129 1,114 1,046 -68

Employment–
population ratio

47.8 47.7 -0.1 46.5 46.8 0.3 59.5 55.3 -4.2

Unemployed

285 282 -3 254 236 -18 32 46 14

Unemployment rate

3.0 3.1 0.1 3.1 2.9 -0.2 2.7 4.2 1.5

Gulf War-era II veterans

Civilian labor force

3,437 3,464 27 2,923 2,942 19 514 522 8

Participation rate

81.7 79.2 -2.5 83.8 81.7 -2.1 71.7 67.5 -4.2

Employed

3,320 3,333 13 2,823 2,847 24 497 486 -11

Employment–
population ratio

78.9 76.2 -2.7 80.9 79.1 -1.8 69.3 62.9 -6.4

Unemployed

116 130 14 100 95 -5 17 35 18

Unemployment rate

3.4 3.8 0.4 3.4 3.2 -0.2 3.3 6.8 3.5

Gulf War-era I veterans

Civilian labor force

2,401 2,305 -96 2,043 1,984 -59 358 321 -37

Participation rate

77.6 74.7 -2.9 78.5 75.8 -2.7 73.0 68.7 -4.3

Employed

2,335 2,241 -94 1,983 1,925 -58 352 316 -36

Employment–
population ratio

75.4 72.7 -2.7 76.1 73.6 -2.5 71.8 67.6 -4.2

Unemployed

66 64 -2 60 59 -1 6 5 -1

Unemployment rate

2.8 2.8 0.0 3.0 3.0 0.0 1.7 1.6 -0.1

World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans

Civilian labor force

1,565 1,459 -106 1505 1,412 -93 60 47 -13

Participation rate

21.0 20.7 -0.3 20.9 20.7 -0.2 23.4 19.2 -4.2

Employed

1,525 1,417 -108 1466 1,370 -96 59 47 -12

Employment–
population ratio

20.4 20.1 -0.3 20.3 20.1 -0.2 23.1 19.1 -4.0

Unemployed

40 42 2 39 42 3 1 0 -1

Unemployment rate

2.6 2.9 0.3 2.6 2.9 0.3 1.5 0.4 -1.1

Veterans of other service periods

Civilian labor force

1,985 1,959 -26 1,771 1,757 -14 214 202 -12

Participation rate

46.3 47.1 0.8 45.6 46.8 1.2 52.2 49.9 -2.3

Employed

1,923 1,914 -9 1,717 1,717 0 206 197 -9

Employment–
population ratio

44.8 46.0 1.2 44.2 45.7 1.5 50.3 48.6 -1.7

Unemployed

62 46 -16 55 41 -14 8 5 -3

Unemployment rate

3.1 2.3 -0.8 3.1 2.3 -0.8 3.6 2.5 -1.1

Nonveterans, 18 years and older

Civilian labor force

151,198 153,028 1,830 76,801 77,656 855 74,398 75,371 973

Participation rate

65.5 65.9 0.4 74.3 74.3 0.0 58.4 58.9 0.5

Employed

145,900 148,080 2,180 74,048 75,085 1,037 71,851 72,995 1,144

Employment–
population ratio

63.2 63.7 0.5 71.6 71.9 0.3 56.4 57.1 0.7

Unemployed

5,299 4,948 -351 2,752 2,571 -181 2,546 2,377 -169

Unemployment rate

3.5 3.2 -0.3 3.6 3.3 -0.3 3.4 3.2 -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 age Persons with a disability Persons with no disability
Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19 Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19

Total, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

6,384 6,256 -128 156,248 158,067 1,819

Participation rate

21.1 20.6 -0.5 68.4 68.8 0.4

Employed

5,895 5,824 -71 150,921 153,015 2,094

Employment–
population ratio

19.4 19.2 -0.2 66.1 66.6 0.5

Unemployed

490 432 -58 5,327 5,052 -275

Unemployment rate

7.7 6.9 -0.8 3.4 3.2 -0.2

Men, 16 to 64 years

Civilian labor force

2,700 2,730 30 77,683 77,958 275

Participation rate

35.7 36.0 0.3 82.4 82.8 0.4

Employed

2,483 2,525 42 74,921 75,382 461

Employment–
population ratio

32.9 33.3 0.4 79.5 80.1 0.6

Unemployed

217 205 -12 2,762 2,576 -186

Unemployment rate

8.0 7.5 -0.5 3.6 3.3 -0.3

Women, 16 to 64 years

Civilian labor force

2,486 2,306 -180 69,494 70,322 828

Participation rate

31.6 30.8 -0.8 71.6 72.4 0.8

Employed

2,267 2,125 -142 67,171 68,090 919

Employment–
population ratio

28.9 28.4 -0.5 69.2 70.1 0.9

Unemployed

219 181 -38 2,323 2,232 -91

Unemployment rate

8.8 7.9 -0.9 3.3 3.2 -0.1

Total, 65 years and over

Civilian labor force

1,199 1,219 20 9,071 9,787 716

Participation rate

8.0 8.0 0.0 24.5 25.6 1.1

Employed

1,145 1,173 28 8,829 9,543 714

Employment–
population ratio

7.7 7.7 0.0 23.8 24.9 1.1

Unemployed

54 46 -8 243 244 1

Unemployment rate

4.5 3.8 -0.7 2.7 2.5 -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 nativity Total Men Women
Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19 Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19 Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19

Foreign born, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

28,495 28,207 -288 16,247 16,044 -203 12,249 12,163 -86

Participation rate

66.1 66.3 0.2 77.9 78.0 0.1 55.0 55.3 0.3

Employed

27,577 27,420 -157 15,782 15,652 -130 11,795 11,769 -26

Employment–
population ratio

64.0 64.4 0.4 75.7 76.1 0.4 53.0 53.5 0.5

Unemployed

918 787 -131 464 392 -72 454 395 -59

Unemployment rate

3.2 2.8 -0.4 2.9 2.4 -0.5 3.7 3.2 -0.5

Native born, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

134,137 136,116 1,979 69,724 70,685 961 64,413 65,430 1,017

Participation rate

62.2 62.6 0.4 66.9 67.2 0.3 57.9 58.3 0.4

Employed

129,239 131,418 2,179 67,059 68,134 1,075 62,179 63,284 1,105

Employment–
population ratio

59.9 60.4 0.5 64.3 64.8 0.5 55.9 56.4 0.5

Unemployed

4,898 4,698 -200 2,664 2,551 -113 2,234 2,147 -87

Unemployment rate

3.7 3.5 -0.2 3.8 3.6 -0.2 3.5 3.3 -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)
Category Fourth quarter, 2015 Fourth quarter, 2016 Fourth quarter, 2017 Fourth quarter, 2018 Fourth quarter, 2019 Change, fourth quarter, 2018–19

Total not in the labor force

94,186 94,869 95,466 95,911 95,581 -330

Persons who currently want a job

5,852 5,804 5,240 5,358 4,807 -551

Marginally attached to the labor force(1)

1,822 1,771 1,544 1,575 1,243 -332

Discouraged workers(2)

631 493 481 437 310 -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.)

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.)

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.)

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
Characteristic 2018 2019 Percent change, 2018–19

Total, 16 years and older

$886 $917 3.5

CPI-U (1982–1984 = 100)

251.1 255.7 1.8

Men

$973 $1,007 3.5

Women

789 821 4.1

White

916 945 3.2

Men

1,002 1,036 3.4

Women

817 840 2.8

Black or African American

694 735 5.9

Men

735 769 4.6

Women

654 704 7.6

Asian

1,095 1,174 7.2

Men

1,241 1,336 7.7

Women

937 1,025 9.4

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

680 706 3.8

Men

720 747 3.8

Women

617 642 4.1

Total, 25 years and older

932 969 4.0

Less than a high school diploma

553 592 7.1

High school graduate, no college

730 746 2.2

Some college or associate’s degree

826 856 3.6

Bachelor’s degree or higher

1,324 1,367 3.2

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.

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.)

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 gender Number of workers (in thousands) Median weekly earnings
2018 2019 2018 2019 Percent change, 2018–19

Total, 16 years and over

115,567 117,584 $886 $917 3.5

Management, professional, and related occupations

48,808 50,119 1,246 1,309 5.1

Management, business, and financial operations occupations

19,863 20,696 1,355 1,415 4.4

Professional and related occupations

28,945 29,423 1,176 1,237 5.2

Service occupations

16,288 16,558 569 592 4.0

Sales and office occupations

23,714 23,883 742 758 2.2

Sales and related occupations

10,077 9,929 798 830 4.0

Office and administrative support occupations

13,637 13,954 717 732 2.1

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations

11,546 11,671 824 869 5.5

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

850 900 581 574 -1.2

Construction and extraction occupations

6,414 6,467 808 866 7.2

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

4,282 4,304 934 939 0.5

Production, transportation, and material moving occupations

15,210 15,353 707 727 2.8

Production occupations

7,668 7,741 723 745 3.0

Transportation and material moving occupations

7,542 7,612 689 711 3.2

Men, 16 years and over

64,142 65,007 973 1,007 3.5

Management, professional, and related occupations

23,685 24,260 1,468 1,539 4.8

Management, business, and financial operations occupations

10,668 11,111 1,537 1,598 4.0

Professional and related occupations

13,017 13,149 1,425 1,493 4.8

Service occupations

7,948 7,898 641 659 2.8

Sales and office occupations

9,548 9,695 846 874 3.3

Sales and related occupations

5,621 5,525 949 982 3.5

Office and administrative support occupations

3,926 4,170 738 771 4.5

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations

11,030 11,134 834 881 5.6

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

667 690 602 593 -1.5

Construction and extraction occupations

6,223 6,280 809 873 7.9

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

4,140 4,164 936 943 0.7

Production, transportation, and material moving occupations

11,932 12,020 762 780 2.4

Production occupations

5,627 5,668 793 814 2.6

Transportation and material moving occupations

6,305 6,352 724 747 3.2

Women, 16 years and over

51,425 52,577 789 821 4.1

Management, professional, and related occupations

25,123 25,859 1,078 1,135 5.3

Management, business, and financial operations occupations

9,195 9,585 1,168 1,221 4.5

Professional and related occupations

15,929 16,274 1,024 1,085 6.0

Service occupations

8,340 8,660 511 537 5.1

Sales and office occupations

14,166 14,188 696 713 2.4

Sales and related occupations

4,455 4,404 651 677 4.0

Office and administrative support occupations

9,711 9,784 711 721 1.4

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations

516 537 638 614 -3.8

Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations

183 210 483 513 6.2

Construction and extraction occupations

191 187 785 711 -9.4

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

142 140 823 850 3.3

Production, transportation, and material moving occupations

3,279 3,334 561 593 5.7

Production occupations

2,041 2,073 575 596 3.7

Transportation and material moving occupations

1,237 1,260 538 586 8.9

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), 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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About the Author

Roxanna Edwards
edwards.roxanna@bls.gov

Roxanna Edwards is an economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sean M. Smith
smith.sean@bls.gov

Sean M. Smith is an economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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