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US Employment

The standard question of what the employment picture looks like has a lot of parts to it. What does it mean to have a job - part time, full time, unemployed; and are you unemployed if you are going to school, if you've stopped looking for work, and so on. Its a quagmire.

Here are the important components of employment as calculated by the BLS:

  • POP: US population
  • CNP: Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population 16 years and over
  • CLF: Civilian Labor Force - CNP that are available to work
  • NILF: Not in Labor Force - CNP that are not available to work
  • FTE: CLF working full time
  • PTE: CLF working part time
  • Unemployed: CLF working neither full, nor part time
  • UNRATE: Unemployed / CLF

    Bottom line is, the headline unemployment rate depends on two things: people actually working (either full or part time) as well as people who have simply dropped out of the labor force - the NILFs. Moving into the NILF category can happen if you go back to school, if you decide to take care of your family, if you get ill, if you decide to retire, or if you are so discouraged you don't even bother to look for work. Being "available" also implies that you have searched for work in the past 4 weeks.

    So enough with the jargon, on to the charts. First, the standard headline unemployment rate quoted every month. Looks like after the crash, we're relatively quickly moving back to normal.

    unrate chart

    Next, we examine the size of the CLF and the NILF groups, as related to the overall size of the population. CLF are people "available to work" and NILF are those who for a huge variety of reasons, are "not available to work." Looking below, the CLF population has plateaued since 1990 relative to the population, and it recently took a small but perceptible dip down after the crash. The NILF population has grown during this same time; from 24% to 28%. People have been steadily dropping out of the labor force for the past 13 years, and after the crash it has continued to accelerate. People moving into NILF category will not show up on the headline UNRATE.

    clf-pop chart clf-nilfpop chart

    NILF vs CLF can be confusing. Instead of dealing with all those definitions, lets just look at how many full time workers we have compared to the total population of the country. On the left is FTE / POP, which after the 2008 crash has moved back down to 1980 levels. Here, the recovery looks anemic. This is a critical difference from the UNRATE chart, since it is likely that FTEs will be supporting most everyone else in the economy. Where did those FTE jobs go? On the right is PTE / POP, which plateaued in 1990s, and had a minor spike up after the crash.

    ftepop chart ptepop chart

    Last, we look at demographics - the CNP age groups. Looking at the chart below, we see the CNP 55+ age group is climbing, the CNP 25-54 group is shrinking, the CNP 16-24 group is flat, while the under 16 group is shrinking. As the 55+ group gets larger and the 25-54 group gets smaller, there will be fewer workers to support more retirees. But over time, this should help fix the unemployment problem, as steadily more workers will enter the NILF group through retirement. Theoretically anyway.

    demographics chart