Unemployment Rate Remains at 17-Year Low

By Susan Jones | December 8, 2017 | 8:42am EST
This is a busy time of year for packers and shippers. (Photo: BLS Website)

(CNSNews.com) - The economy added 228,000 jobs in November and the employment rate stayed at 4.1 percent -- a 17-year low.

The number of employed people increased 57,000 from October, reaching 153,918,000, which is below the record 154,345,000 set in September. (The number of employed people has set six records since Trump took office.)

The rest of the November jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was little changed since October.

A record 95,420,000 people were counted as not in the labor force last month, up slightly from the 95,385,000 in October (also a record high). The labor force participation rate stayed flat at 62.7 percent; The highest it's been since Donald Trump took office is 63.1 percent.

In November, the nation’s civilian noninstitutionalized population, consisting of all people age 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, reached 255,949,000. Of those, 160,529,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one.

The 160,529,000 who participated in the labor force equaled 62.7 percent of the 255,949,000 civilian noninstitutionalized population.

BLS noted that some of the year-to-year data is trending in the right direction:

-- The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers), at 4.8 million, was essentially unchanged in November but was down by 858,000 over the year. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find full-time jobs.

-- In November, 1.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, down by 451,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

-- Among the marginally attached, there were 469,000 discouraged workers in November, down 122,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

'Labor force participation really matters'

On Nov. 28, Jerome Powell, President Trump's nominee to head the Federal Reserve Board, was asked for his views on whether the country has reached maximum employment:

"Maximum employment is indeed our statutory goal," Powell told the Senate Banking Committee.

And I guess the thing I would say at the beginning is, it's kind of an imprecise thing. You can't look at one particular measure of what that is. So we look at a range of things. And I think, for example, 4.1 percent unemployment is at or around, or even below many estimates of the natural rate of unemployment. So that's one data point.

There are other dimensions, though: For example, labor force participation really matters, and particularly labor force participation by prime-age workers, particularly prime-age males. And that is -- that is the one measure, I think, that stands out now as suggesting that there may be more slack, more people that can come back to work.

A wide range of other indicators suggest that we're at or near or in the neighborhood of full employment. We really can't be more precise than that.

Powell also mentioned wages, which do not indicate an "overheating economy or a particularly tight labor market."

2016 work experience snapshot

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Tuesday that a total of 163.6 million persons worked at some point during 2016. The proportion of the civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over who worked at some time during 2016 was 64.3 percent, little changed from 2015.

The number of persons who experienced some unemployment during 2016 declined by 1.4 million to 15.6 million.

Other highlights from the 2016 data:

--The proportion of workers who worked full time, year round in 2016 was 68.8 percent, up 0.8 percentage point from the prior year.

--About 2.6 million individuals looked for a job but did not work at all in 2016, down from 3.2 million in 2015.

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