(March 2018)  The US unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage point in March compared to the previous month, reaching 5 percent, or about 8 million people. Many Americans consider a reduction of the unemployment rate to be one of the highest-priority socio economic issues. As economists point out, however, there is a natural or normal rate of unemployment that signals stable prices in a well-functioning economy and the US has little margin at present. The current natural unemployment rate is estimated at 4.8 percent, which is only slightly less that the current actual unemployment rate. 

  • Since the same time last year, the unemployment rate has decreased by 0.5 percentage points. The decline occurred at a lower pace, however, than during the 2014 to 2015 period.
  • The current unemployment rate is now half its peak of 10 percent, recorded at the end of 2007-2009 global financial crisis.
  • Among US states, Alaska has the highest unemployment rate (6.6%) and South Dakota the lowest (2.7%). California, which accounts for 13 percent of US GDP, reported an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent as of February 2016.

Other employment figures of note:

  • Employment expanded by 246,000 people during March to 151.3 million. This represents a 2.01 percent annual growth rate and exceeds the growth rate during 2014-2015.
  • The employment to population ratio, however, changed little from the previous year due to the 1.07 percent increase in the US population, cancelling out the employment gain.
  • In March, the civilian labor force—representing the sum of unemployed and employed—was 159.3 million, or about 2.4 million more than in March 2015. The overall labor force participation rate grew by 0.1 percentage point, continuing its upward trend that started in September 2015.
  • The share of long-term unemployed, or those who cannot find job for 27 weeks and over, decreased by 0.1 percentage points compared to February, and now constitutes 27.6 percent of total unemployment. The same cannot be said about March figures for involuntary part-time employment: the number of individuals who wanted full-time work but could find only a part-time job rose by 2.3 percent to 6.1 million. In addition, even though the current level of part-time employment continues to trend downwards, it remains historically high.
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