Who Is Working?
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We all have jobs to do. You probably have some chores at home, like cleaning your room or setting the table. At school, you have jobs like finishing your work and copying this week’s spelling word list. These are important things for you to do. But according to economists you are not working! An economist is someone who studies how our country manages money and resources to produce things (called goods) and work done for others (called services).
What you do is important, but economists have a particular way of counting people who are and are not working They want to know how many people over the age of 16 have jobs, how many don’t have jobs but want one, and how many don’t have jobs and aren’t looking for one.
In this lesson, you will learn what economists mean when they talk about people who are working and people who are not working. You’ll also find out about a monthly survey (a set of questions for collecting information) that helps government officials figure out how many people in our country are and are not working.
To try out what you’ve learned, you will imagine you are a government worker who finds out about people’s job situations. The lesson gives information about 10 different people that you pretend to talk to, and you decide how government officials might count them. To compare the results, you will make a bar graph. Then, you will look at the results of a survey that you pretend you did every month for a year. You will use the results to create a line graph and see how the information changes over time.
When it comes to jobs in our country, government officials and economists want to know about three important things:
- How many people have jobs .
- How many people don’t have jobs but want one.
- How many people don’t have jobs and aren’t looking for one.
When talking about these three things, economists use these words:
- Not in the labor force
Although you may not have heard these words before, economists use them a lot. Let’s talk about what each one means.
Government officials and economists say you are EMPLOYED if:
- you are over the age of 16, and
- you have a job that you are paid to do.
When you are employed, you are working for yourself or someone else and earning money for the work you do. "Employed" and "employment" are words that government officials and economists use when they talk about people who have jobs.
Our government and economists say you are UNEMPLOYED if:
- You are over the age of 16, and
- You are not in the military or institutionalized (such as prison), and
- You are willing and able to work, and
- You don’t have a job, and
- You are looking for a job.
When you are unemployed, you are trying to find work so that you can earn money. "Unemployed" and "unemployment" are words government officials and economists use when they talk about people who don’t have jobs but want one. Webster's Dictionary defines unemployed as: not employed: a) not being used b) not engaged in a gainful occupation c) not invested.
Now let’s talk about the word "labor." "Labor" is another word for work, and economists sometimes use it when they talk about jobs. For example, government officials and economists say you are NOT IN THE LABOR FORCE if:
- you are over the age of 16, and
- you don’t have a job, and
- you are not looking for a job.
When you are not in the labor force, you are part of a group of people that are not working and don't want to work at that time.
For example, if you are a student going to college, you might not be working and you may not want to work at that time, since working might interfere with school. Another example is someone who is retired. A retired person is someone who used to work, but doesn’t work anymore. People usually retire when they are older, after working for many years.
"Not in the labor force" is what government officials and economists call people who don’t have a job and don’t want one, like students and retired people.
All of this information is very important to economists. It’s so important that our government does a survey every month to find out how many people in our country are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force. In fact, our government has been doing this survey, called the CURRENT POPULATION SURVEY every month since 1940.
Every month for this survey, government employees ask people in 60,000 homes a number of questions. The questions help our government decide how many people are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force each month.
The government employees record the answers from the surveys into their computers and send the information to a main computer in Washington, D.C. The main computer analyzes the information and determines how many people are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force. Our government then gives out the results to economists and other people who are interested in the information.
The survey results are so important that they usually are in the news every month. Luckily, anyone can use the Internet to see the results of the survey. Click the link at the U.S. Department of Labor . The Latest Numbers box shows information from the most recent survey.
Economists are interested in how the survey numbers change over time. Find the heading that says Unemployment Rate. Click the dinosaur under this heading to see a line graph . The graph shows the number of unemployed people in our country over the last ten years.
Below the graph, you can see a listing of each year and the number of unemployed people. This is the same information also shown on the graph above it.
As you know now, our government doesn’t survey millions of people or talk to everyone in the entire United States. That would take too long, and people would get tired of answering the same questions every month! STATISTICS (stuh-TIS-tics), which are special math calculations, along with studies about our country’s population, enable government officials and economists to give a picture of the entire country’s employment situation in the whole country by using information from the Current Population Survey.
Activities: You are a government worker surveying people and recording the information on your computer. Today, you are talking to 6 different people about their job situation, their age, and whether they are looking for work. In the following quiz, you will determine if these individuals are EMPLOYED, UNEMPLOYED, or NOT IN THE LABOR FORCE by typing in your answer in the space provided. [NOTE: You will need to print your answers before beginning the next activity.]
Use the results from the previous activity to create a bar graph. You can use this interactive blank graph that you can print upon completion.
- In yellow, graph the Number of People Not In The Labor Force
- In red, graph the Number of People Employed
- In blue, graph the Number of People Unemployed
Pretend that you are a government worker who has contacted 500 people every month for a year--asking them about their jobs. You "recorded" your answers on your computer and "sent" them to Washington, D.C.
From the information you sent to Washington D.C., a computer there calculated this table of results for the number of unemployed people each month:
Use the results to create a bar graph showing the number of people unemployed from January through December.
In this lesson, you learned what economists and government officials mean when they talk about people who are employed, unemployed, and not in the labor force. You saw how the Current Population Survey tells us information about people’s employment situation.
You learned that the Current Population Survey is very important, and that our government has done the survey every month since 1940. You imagined you were a survey worker collecting employment information, and you created graphs to make the information you collected easier to read.
As you have discovered, even though your jobs at home and school are important, economists don’t count you as a working person!
Over the next week, watch for and clip newspaper or magazine articles that talk about unemployment or new jobs. Look for headlines that include the words “unemployment,” “employment,” “jobs,” “jobless,” and “labor.” Turn the clippings in to your teacher to share with the class.