Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases data from the monthly "Household Survey" conducted by the Bureau of the Census, providing a comprehensive body of information on the employment and unemployment experience of the U.S. population, classified by age, sex, race, and a variety of other characteristics.

The BLS also conducts the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, surveying about 150,000 businesses and government agencies, representing approximately 390,000 individual work sites, in order to provide detailed industry data on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls.

The BLS compiles information from these sources and announces the monthly "Employment Situation," reporting the current U.S. employment and unemployment data estimates. The monthly announcement reports employment data from the previous full month.

This lesson is about the May 7, 2010, BLS announcement, "Employment Situation: April 2010."  This lesson will also look at  the recent history of employment and unemployment data. 


  • Review the most recently reported U.S. employment and unemployment data.
  • Determine the changes in U.S. employment and unemployment from the past month and year.
  • Determine the factors that have influenced the change in the U.S. unemployment rate.
  • Explain the implications of the employment and unemployment data for individuals, population groups, and the U.S. economy.


Employment and Unemployment in April, 2013

To better understand the health of the U.S. labor markets and the impact of persistently high unemployment on the U.S. economy, take a quick look at the basic U.S. labor market data for April, 2013.  See Figure 1, "U.S. Labor Market Data, April 2013," below.

Figure 1

Look at the unemployment data in Figure 1, above. The U.S. unemployment rate decreased again in April by 0.1 percent, falling 0.6 percentage point since April, 2013.  The number of unemployed has dropped by 859,000 in the past year.   Are we on the road to a "jobs recovery" since the recession?

In November, 2007, total employment in the U.S. (Current Population Survey) was 146,595,000 jobs.   By December, 2009, that number dropped to 138,025.  That was a loss of 8,570,000 jobs in the recession.  The BLS reported a total of 143,579,000 U.S. jobs in April, 2013.  That means the U.S. is still 3 million jobs behind the high of November, 2007. 

Note:  The BLS also revised the jobs data for the past two months, announcing that the U.S. economy generated 332,000 jobs in February (reported only 268,000 in April) and 138,000 in March, 50,000 more than the reported 88,000 increase.

Figure 2, below, provides more April 2103 unemployment data by ethnic groups and education levels.

Figure 2

Students:  Given information about employment and unemployment at some time, can you determine the unemployment rate?

Take a look at more of the April, 2013, employment and unemployment report and decide for yourself.

The Employment Report – April 2013
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Released: May 1, 2013

"Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 165,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services, food services and drinking places, retail trade, and health care."

Note: Unless otherwise cited, the data in this lesson is from the May 3, 2013, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics "Employment Situation - April 2013" news release.

Many economists agree that it takes over 200,000 new jobs each month just to keep pace with the normal growth of the population and labor force.  If this generalization is true, the economy experienced a net gain in April, 2013. Why, then, did the unemployment rate decrease by just 0.1 percent?  Look again at the data in Figure 1.  What happened to the population, the size of the labor force, and the number of unemployed?

Remember, the unemployment rate is the number of unemployed as a percentage of the total civilian labor force.  In April, 2013, with 165,000 new jobs, the number of unemployed decreased by just 83,000..  The size of the labor force decreased by 31,000.  The result - a slight drop in the unemployment rate, rounded to 0.1.

In April, the U.S. labor force participation rate was 63.3 percent, a drop from 63.6 percent a year ago and participation rates over 70 percent in the late 1990s.  For a history of the labor force participation rate, go to:

Students: What do you think about these employment and unemployment numbers.  Are they "good news" - lower unemployment rate, or "bad news" - a smaller percentage of the labor force is working? 

How might the numbers mean different things in different contexts or when compared to other numbers?

When the labor force decreases, the unemployment rate can also decreases as people become more pessimistic about finding jobs and become "discouraged workers" leaving the labor force. When these people start looking for employment, they will, again, be counted as "unemployed."

Figure 3, below, shows the monthly U.S. unemployment rates from 1990 through April, 2013.  Note recent high monthly unemployment rate of 10.1 percent in October, 2009 and the most recent low unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in May, 2007.

Students: Do you see the "business cycles" of the economy illustrated by the unemployment rates over time?

Figure 3

For more complete labor market data, as of April, 2012, go the these Tables from the May 4, 2012, BLS employment and unemployment news release.

Students: You should be able to identify the recent business cycle as you look at the recent history of unemployment rate data.See Figure 3, above.

Remember, this is the “non-institutionalized civilian population."  Those in institutions (prison, mental facilities, etc.) and the military are not included.  This means that about 63.3 percent of the total population was counted as in the “labor force” in April.  89,936,00 people in the U.S., were not in the labor force for a variety of reasons. 

The first data point in determining the unemployment rate is the size of the labor force.  The unemployment rate is the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed.  In April, 2013,11,659,000 people were unemployed, a decrease of 83,000 from the previous month. 

11,659,000 divided by 155,238 (labor force) equals 7.51 percent – when rounded to nearest tenth of a point - the reported unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.

Key Labor Market Definitions

As a reminder, the following are the definitions of the key categories used to report employment and unemployment data from the BLS “Employment Report.” These definitions are from the BLS “Glossary.”

  • Civilian non-institutionalized population:  Included are persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.      
  •  Civilian labor force:  The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed (16 and over, non-institutionalized).  
  • Labor force participation rate: The labor force as a percent of the civilian non-institutional population.        
  • Employed Persons:  Persons 16 years and over in the civilian non-institutional population who, during the reference week, (a) did any work at all (at least 1 hour) as paid employees; worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family (plus those temporarily absent from employment.)
  • Employment-population ratio: The proportion of the civilian non-institutional population aged 16 years and over that is employed. 
  • Unemployed:  Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4 week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.
  • Unemployment rate:  The unemployment rate represents the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force. 
  • Not in labor force:  Includes persons aged 16 years and older in the civilian non-institutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary. Information is collected on their desire for and availability for work, job search activity in the prior year, and reasons for not currently searching.   
  • Persons who currently want a job:  Persons who want a job, have searched for work during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the reference week, but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks.

Unemployment by Demographic Groups

As summarized in Figure 2, above, the BLS also reports the unemployment rates for several demographic groups, including race/ethnicity and educational attainment. Go to the May 3, 2013 press release and scroll down to Table A.

Gender, Age, and Ethnicity

Look at the section of the table on the unemployment rates for "Adult men, Adult women, Teenagers, White, Black/African American, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino Ethnicity."

Students: Do you notice any patterns in this data?

Unemployment continues to be unevenly distributed among racial/ethnic groups and age levels. Young workers are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than workers over 24 years of age. The unemployment rate for teenagers is very high.  Black/African American unemployment significantly exceeds other racial/ethnic demographic groups.

Educational Attainment

Look again at Table A, specifically at the section about educational attainment (Less than a high school diploma, High school diploma, Some college/associate degree, Bachelor's degree).

Students: Do you notice any patterns in this data?

Education is a strong indicator of potential for unemployment. There is a clear relationship between educational attainment and unemployment rates. The more education you have, the less chance of unemployment - on average. What is a high school diploma worth?   You will make more income, for sure (on average), but also a greatly decreased risk of unemployment.

 Students: Take a look at the BLS web page: Education Pays .  Do you see any patterns?

Employment - Establishment Survey Data

"Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 165,000 in April, with job gains in professional and business services, food services and drinking places, retail trade, and health care. Over the prior 12 months, employment growth averaged 169,000 per month."

Job Gains by Industry

  • Retail trade employment increased by 29,300.
  • Professional and business services employment increased by 73,000.
  • Education and health care services employment increased by 28,000.
  • Leisure and hospitality employment increased by 43,000.
  • Financial activities employment increased by 9,000.
  • Transportation and warehousing employment increased by 4,200.
  • Financial services employment increased by 9,000.

Job Losses by Industry

  • Construction employment decreased by 6,000.
  • Federal/state/local government employment decreased by 11,000.
  • Information services employment decreased by 9,000
  • Mining and logging employment decreased by 3,000
  • Manufacturing employment did not change.

For more details about employment by industry group, go to:  

Students: Take a  look at industries that interest you as a future occupation. 

Another good source of industry information is the BLS "Occupational Outlook Handbook." .  Among other careers, you can learn about a career as an economist.

Figure 4


In April, 2013, the U.S. unemployment rate decreased to 7.5 percent. Job growth of 165,000 in April was slightly less than the average monthly growth for the past year.  Slightly fewer people had given-up looking for work and/or were otherwise not counted as employed or unemployed. in April  The size of the labor force increased by 210,000 The recent history of changes in the labor force, employment and unemployment is somewhat erratic - possibly reflecting much uncertainty in the economy.


U.S. economic growth, as measured by real GDP growth, increased moderately in the first quarter of 2013, after very slow growth in the fourth quarter of 2012.  Recent economic growth has not resulted in the number of jobs needed for a classic economic recovery.   Many economists anticipate that, even though jobs growth may continue, the unemployment rate may remain stubbornly high for some time.

Students:  What do you think?  How long will it take for a real jobs recovery?



The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a variety of reports on current issues in labor markets and labor market data. The April, 2009, online edition of “Issues in Labor Statistics” included a report called, “Ranks of Discouraged Workers and Others Marginally Attached to the Labor Force Rise During Recession .” This report addressed the long-standing issue of the importance of including discouraged and marginally attached workers in determining the real level of unemployment.

Read the report.  Summarize the arguments for including discouraged and marginally attached workers in the labor force and the officially reported unemployment rate.  Should the discouraged or marginally attached workers be counted as unemployed?  What does the increase in the number of discouraged and marginally attached workers mean for our economy?

Students: Although the specific data in this BLS report is outdated (2008-2009), the explanation of the concepts of marginally attached and discouraged workers is still very appropriate.