Step 3a. The unemployment rate

By Rajkamal Rao 

Go back to Step 3: Choose Your Target States by Better Understanding the US Economy

3a.  The unemployment rate
The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed by the total number of people in the labor force.  Unemployment (or joblessness) occurs when people actively seeking work can't find work.  As a practical matter, if the unemployment rate is 3% or lower, the country is considered to be at full employment.  For each one percent uptick in unemployment, the economy is considered to get worse.  People who are out of work can't pay taxes to support the government.  Worse, they draw more benefits from the government in subsidized housing, food assistance and cash unemployment payments.  If this situation persists, the economy really suffers.

Since 2009, US unemployment has been the highest since the Great Depression of 1929.  For nearly 42 months straight, the overall unemployment rate in the country was higher than 8% - a level unseen in modern history.  Only since October 2012 has the unemployment rate dropped below 8% but it is still stubbornly high.

In March 2013, the national rate fell to 7.6% but as the Wall Street Journal reports, this drop was driven by a huge drop in the number of people in the labor force.  "The number of unemployed dropped by nearly 300,000, but it doesn’t appear that most of them found jobs. That’s because the number of employed people also tumbled by more than 200,000. Both numbers dropped because of the total number of people working or looking for work tumbled. The labor force participation rate fell to 63.3%, the lowest level since 1979 when women were still just beginning their move into the labor force."

On July 5, 2013, the US Department of Labor reported that "Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 195,000 in June, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.6 percent. Employment rose in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, retail trade, healthcare, and financial activities."

But the unemployment rate has steadily improved since 2013. Under the Trump administration, unemployment rates continue to post record lows. In more than half of the states, there are more jobs than there are people.

Is the unemployment rate the same in all 50 states?  No, hardly.  The rate in each state is different as reflected by each state's policies and fortunes.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is according to the following table.

US Unemployment Rate, Sep 2019. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Last Modified Date: Oct 1, 2019

What the above table says is that your chance of finding meaningful employment is much higher in North Dakota than in Nevada.  So, when it is time for you to select schools, we suggest that you stick to the top 25 states in the list above.  Some exceptions apply, so please see Exceptions in Step 3.

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