The American Employment Picture in 5 Views

May 25, 2021

Every now and then, it makes sense to take a broad view of the economic picture. Here’s a look at the American employment picture in five views.

Total Employment

The American employment base has been through some amazing ups and downs. Interestingly, the two most violet movements occurred with the past two – the housing market collapse and the pandemic fallout. Where are we relative to the employment peak of February 2020?

In February 2020, total employment in the U.S. was 152.5 million. The most recent count of employment in the U.S. is 144.3 million. There is still lots of room to catch up to where we were one year and three months ago – over 8 million jobs to be precise.

Source: BLS

A Demographic View

This next view shows the year-over-year growth in employment for certain age groups. Before looking, can you guess which age group has been the strongest winner of the recovery? The options are 25-34 years old, 35-44 years old, 45-54 years old, and 55 years and older.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest gainer is the youngest age group, up 11% in April 2021 (the most recent data point) compared to April 2020.

Perhaps more interestingly is the second largest gainer – individuals aged 55 years and older, up 10% over the prior year.

In third and fourth places are 35-44 years old, up 9% over the prior year and 45-54 years old, up 8% over the prior year.

Source: BLS, Econometric Studios, LLC

Unemployment Rate

No overview of the employment picture would be complete without a view of the unemployment picture. The current unemployment rate as of April 2021 is approaching its historical average since 1950. The rate is still a long way away from the 3.5% rate we saw just before the pandemic shutdowns riddled global economies.

Source: BLS, Econometric Studios, LLC

Unemployment Rate by Education Category

The fourth view is the unemployment rate by education category. Amazingly, the unemployment rate for college graduates at 3.5% is still much lower than for other education groups. The education group with the highest unemployment rate is individuals with just a high school degree at 9.3%.

Source: BLS, Econometric Studios, LLC

Labor Force Participation Rate

One of the more telling indications on the state of the American labor market is the labor force participation rate. Prior to the pandemic, the labor force participation rate had broken a long-term trend in decline, reaching a peak of 63.4% in January 2020. That quickly changed in the aftermath of the pandemic, dropping to a low of 60.2% in April 2020. Since then, individuals’ desire to enter the labor market has moved up somewhat, currently standing at 61.7%.

Source: BLS, Econometric Studios, LLC

Summing Up

Overall, the American job picture is improving, although still with much room to grow.

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