Much Fewer than 10% of Americans are Unemployed

Both Democrats and Republicans last night said that “10% of Americans are unemployed.”

That is incorrect. The United States Census Bureau says that 15 million Americans are unemployed. It also says that America’s population aged 16+ is 237 million. The population including children (they’re Americans too!) is 309 million.

15 million is 6 percent of 237 million and 5 percent of 309 million: the percentage of Americans 16+ who are unemployed is 6% and the percentage of all Americans who are unemployed is 5%.

Confusion arises because the “10% unemployment rate” commonly reported refers to the fraction of the LABOR FORCE that is unemployed. Millions of Americans are not in the labor force: many of them are willing stay-at-home-moms or stay-at-home-dads or gladly retired or children busy with school.

Of course, when there’s “confusion”, there are politicians who cite the incorrect statistic that miraculously happens to be biased in their favor (in this case, “in their favor” is to appear sympathetic).

In summary, unemployment (by the Census Bureau’s definition) is currently 10% of the labor force, 6% of American adults and 5% of Americans.

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About Casey B. Mulligan 76 Articles

Affiliation: University of Chicago

Casey B. Mulligan is a Professor in the Department of Economics. Mulligan first joined the University of Chicago in 1991 as a graduate student, and received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago in 1993.

He has also served as a Visiting Professor teaching public economics at Harvard University, Clemson University, and Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.

Mulligan is author of the 1997 book Parental Priorities and Economic Inequality, which studies economic models of, and statistical evidence on, the intergenerational transmission of economic status. His recent research is concerned with capital and labor taxation, with particular emphasis on tax incidence and positive theories of public policy. His recent work includes Market Responses to the Panic of 2008 (a book-in-process with Chicago graduate student Luke Threinen) and published articles such as “Selection, Investment, and Women’s Relative Wages,” “Deadweight Costs and the Size of Government,” “Do Democracies have Different Public Policies than Nondemocracies?,” “The Extent of the Market and the Supply of Regulation,” “What do Aggregate Consumption Euler Equations Say about the Capital Income Tax Burden?,” and “Public Policies as Specification Errors.” Mulligan has reported on some of these results in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.

He is affiliated with a number of professional organizations, including the National Bureau of Economic Research, the George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State, and the Population Research Center. He is also the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including those from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Smith- Richardson Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation.

Visit: Supply and Demand (in that order)

2 Comments on Much Fewer than 10% of Americans are Unemployed

  1. Best example I’ve seen of why not to publish articles while otherwise distracted. This certainly gives one pause to contemplate his ‘new math’. The author only had to look at two numbers. Americans collecting current unemployment benefits and Americans collecting extended benefits.

    You ADD the dang numbers.. or at the very least quote

    Doesn’t an EDITOR live here?


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