What to watch on jobs day: An assessment of the 2019 labor market

The last Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report of 2019 comes out on Friday, giving us a chance to step back and look at how working people fared over the entire year. The report also marks the 12th anniversary of the official start of the Great Recession. My expectation is that the December data will confirm that the economy has nearly recovered its immediate pre-Great Recession health—the last year before the Great Recession hit. Wage growth, which slowed over the last year, is a notable exception.

However, as I have often noted, 2007 should not be considered a benchmark for a fully healthy economy for America’s workers. Almost all labor market measures were notably weaker in 2007 than they were at the previous business cycle peak in 2000. There was very little reason to think that the U.S. economy in 2007 was at full employment. If one looks at the stronger business cycle peak of 2000 as a more appropriate benchmark, the economy in 2019 looks even further from full employment. Many working people are still not seeing the recovery reflected in their paychecks—and the economy will not be at genuine full employment until employers are consistently offering workers meaningfully higher wages.

In this blog post—and Friday when the December numbers come out—I’m going to look at average payroll employment growth over the last several years. Because there is always a bit of volatility in the monthly data—especially in the household series that has a smaller sample size—taking a year-long approach allows us to smooth out the bumps and take stock of the key measures: payroll employment growth, the unemployment rate, the employment-to-population ratio, and nominal wage growth.

The figure below shows average nonfarm employment growth for 2007–2018 and for the first 11 months of 2019. With an average of 180,000 new jobs being added each month, job growth in 2019 is a bit softer than 2018 and more in line with what we saw in 2017. This pickup in 2018 can be attributed to the shift in federal policy from austerity to stimulus in the form of both tax cuts and an increase in government spending. In particular, Congress boosted spending by almost $150 billion, contributing significantly to economic growth in 2018. But, in 2019, spending held steady at $150 billion, meaning there was no additional government spending to continue stimulating demand, and we saw a mild softening of employment growth.

Figure A

Average monthly total nonfarm employment growth, 2006–2019

Year Average monthly total nonfarm employment growth
2006 175
2007 95
2008 -296
2009 -421
2010 86
2011 173
2012 181
2013 192
2014 251
2015 227
2016 193
2017 179
2018 223
2019 180
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The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Note: Because full 2019 monthly employment data are not yet available, the chart compares average monthly job growth between January and November for 2019.

Source: Data are from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) series of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and are subject to occasional revisions. This chart was based on data accessed in January 2020.

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At the current pace of growth, however, the labor market continues to not only absorb population growth, but also chip away at the slack remaining in the labor market—namely workers who continue to be sidelined and who I expect will enter or re-enter the labor market as opportunities for jobs and better pay expand. As it turns out (and what we’ve long argued), workers who left or never entered the labor force during the Great Recession and its aftermath were not necessarily permanently sidelined, but have systematically been returning to the labor market as job opportunities have strengthened. Over the last few years, the newly employed have been coming both from the ranks of the unemployed as well as from outside the labor force, those who were not actively seeking work the month prior to finding a job. In fact, as the figure below illustrates, the share of newly employed workers who did not look for work the previous month is at a historic high. About three-fourths of newly employed workers are coming from outside the labor force.

Figure B

Share of newly employed workers who said that they were not actively searching for work in the previous month

date Share of newly employed workers who said that they were not actively searching for work in the previous month
Apr-1990 61.9%
May-1990 62.6%
Jun-1990 62.0%
Jul-1990 62.0%
Aug-1990 61.6%
Sep-1990 62.3%
Oct-1990 61.0%
Nov-1990 61.2%
Dec-1990 60.4%
Jan-1991 59.9%
Feb-1991 59.0%
Mar-1991 58.5%
Apr-1991 57.7%
May-1991 57.6%
Jun-1991 57.2%
Jul-1991 58.0%
Aug-1991 57.8%
Sep-1991 57.7%
Oct-1991 57.3%
Nov-1991 56.9%
Dec-1991 57.0%
Jan-1992 56.8%
Feb-1992 57.1%
Mar-1992 57.1%
Apr-1992 57.2%
May-1992 57.3%
Jun-1992 56.6%
Jul-1992 56.4%
Aug-1992 56.1%
Sep-1992 55.9%
Oct-1992 55.7%
Nov-1992 55.8%
Dec-1992 56.1%
Jan-1993 56.6%
Feb-1993 57.7%
Mar-1993 58.3%
Apr-1993 58.4%
May-1993 58.2%
Jun-1993 58.1%
Jul-1993 57.5%
Aug-1993 57.5%
Sep-1993 58.0%
Oct-1993 58.9%
Nov-1993 58.5%
Dec-1993 58.3%
Jan-1994 58.8%
Feb-1994 59.2%
Mar-1994 59.1%
Apr-1994 58.7%
May-1994 58.3%
Jun-1994 58.5%
Jul-1994 58.6%
Aug-1994 59.0%
Sep-1994 59.1%
Oct-1994 59.8%
Nov-1994 60.1%
Dec-1994 60.3%
Jan-1995 60.4%
Feb-1995 59.5%
Mar-1995 59.7%
Apr-1995 59.7%
May-1995 59.2%
Jun-1995 59.5%
Jul-1995 59.5%
Aug-1995 60.0%
Sep-1995 60.2%
Oct-1995 59.9%
Nov-1995 60.6%
Dec-1995 59.9%
Jan-1996 59.8%
Feb-1996 60.3%
Mar-1996 60.7%
Apr-1996 61.0%
May-1996 60.7%
Jun-1996 60.8%
Jul-1996 61.5%
Aug-1996 60.8%
Sep-1996 60.9%
Oct-1996 60.2%
Nov-1996 60.6%
Dec-1996 59.6%
Jan-1997 59.1%
Feb-1997 58.9%
Mar-1997 60.3%
Apr-1997 61.4%
May-1997 61.8%
Jun-1997 61.1%
Jul-1997 60.4%
Aug-1997 61.3%
Sep-1997 61.9%
Oct-1997 62.5%
Nov-1997 62.7%
Dec-1997 62.8%
Jan-1998 63.3%
Feb-1998 62.7%
Mar-1998 62.9%
Apr-1998 62.4%
May-1998 63.5%
Jun-1998 63.2%
Jul-1998 64.2%
Aug-1998 64.0%
Sep-1998 65.2%
Oct-1998 65.1%
Nov-1998 65.1%
Dec-1998 64.9%
Jan-1999 65.6%
Feb-1999 65.5%
Mar-1999 64.2%
Apr-1999 65.3%
May-1999 66.1%
Jun-1999 67.4%
Jul-1999 66.4%
Aug-1999 65.7%
Sep-1999 65.3%
Oct-1999 65.5%
Nov-1999 65.3%
Dec-1999 65.1%
Jan-2000 64.4%
Feb-2000 65.4%
Mar-2000 65.7%
Apr-2000 65.9%
May-2000 65.6%
Jun-2000 65.9%
Jul-2000 65.4%
Aug-2000 65.5%
Sep-2000 65.6%
Oct-2000 66.5%
Nov-2000 67.4%
Dec-2000 68.1%
Jan-2001 69.0%
Feb-2001 68.6%
Mar-2001 67.9%
Apr-2001 66.9%
May-2001 65.8%
Jun-2001 65.3%
Jul-2001 65.7%
Aug-2001 66.2%
Sep-2001 66.6%
Oct-2001 65.5%
Nov-2001 64.4%
Dec-2001 62.9%
Jan-2002 62.6%
Feb-2002 62.3%
Mar-2002 61.7%
Apr-2002 61.9%
May-2002 62.8%
Jun-2002 64.4%
Jul-2002 64.5%
Aug-2002 64.0%
Sep-2002 63.1%
Oct-2002 63.1%
Nov-2002 63.7%
Dec-2002 64.1%
Jan-2003 64.2%
Feb-2003 64.2%
Mar-2003 64.5%
Apr-2003 64.3%
May-2003 63.7%
Jun-2003 63.5%
Jul-2003 63.1%
Aug-2003 63.2%
Sep-2003 63.4%
Oct-2003 64.3%
Nov-2003 64.7%
Dec-2003 63.7%
Jan-2004 63.6%
Feb-2004 63.4%
Mar-2004 64.9%
Apr-2004 64.3%
May-2004 64.3%
Jun-2004 63.7%
Jul-2004 64.2%
Aug-2004 64.5%
Sep-2004 64.1%
Oct-2004 64.2%
Nov-2004 64.0%
Dec-2004 64.4%
Jan-2005 64.6%
Feb-2005 64.8%
Mar-2005 64.9%
Apr-2005 65.1%
May-2005 65.8%
Jun-2005 66.1%
Jul-2005 66.6%
Aug-2005 65.9%
Sep-2005 66.5%
Oct-2005 66.2%
Nov-2005 66.0%
Dec-2005 65.9%
Jan-2006 65.8%
Feb-2006 67.3%
Mar-2006 67.3%
Apr-2006 67.6%
May-2006 67.3%
Jun-2006 67.2%
Jul-2006 66.7%
Aug-2006 66.4%
Sep-2006 65.9%
Oct-2006 66.9%
Nov-2006 67.6%
Dec-2006 68.3%
Jan-2007 68.0%
Feb-2007 67.0%
Mar-2007 66.5%
Apr-2007 65.8%
May-2007 66.2%
Jun-2007 67.6%
Jul-2007 67.7%
Aug-2007 67.6%
Sep-2007 66.9%
Oct-2007 67.0%
Nov-2007 67.5%
Dec-2007 66.6%
Jan-2008 66.4%
Feb-2008 65.4%
Mar-2008 65.6%
Apr-2008 64.7%
May-2008 65.1%
Jun-2008 64.9%
Jul-2008 65.3%
Aug-2008 64.2%
Sep-2008 62.9%
Oct-2008 62.1%
Nov-2008 61.9%
Dec-2008 62.3%
Jan-2009 62.2%
Feb-2009 61.6%
Mar-2009 60.8%
Apr-2009 59.8%
May-2009 59.6%
Jun-2009 58.3%
Jul-2009 57.5%
Aug-2009 57.0%
Sep-2009 56.8%
Oct-2009 57.6%
Nov-2009 56.7%
Dec-2009 57.7%
Jan-2010 57.9%
Feb-2010 58.8%
Mar-2010 58.7%
Apr-2010 57.4%
May-2010 56.4%
Jun-2010 56.6%
Jul-2010 57.2%
Aug-2010 58.4%
Sep-2010 58.8%
Oct-2010 58.9%
Nov-2010 58.9%
Dec-2010 58.4%
Jan-2011 59.1%
Feb-2011 59.5%
Mar-2011 60.1%
Apr-2011 60.4%
May-2011 60.2%
Jun-2011 59.7%
Jul-2011 59.8%
Aug-2011 59.6%
Sep-2011 60.6%
Oct-2011 59.8%
Nov-2011 59.8%
Dec-2011 59.1%
Jan-2012 59.2%
Feb-2012 59.1%
Mar-2012 59.4%
Apr-2012 60.3%
May-2012 60.9%
Jun-2012 61.6%
Jul-2012 61.8%
Aug-2012 62.3%
Sep-2012 62.3%
Oct-2012 62.0%
Nov-2012 61.8%
Dec-2012 62.5%
Jan-2013 62.2%
Feb-2013 61.5%
Mar-2013 61.6%
Apr-2013 63.1%
May-2013 63.5%
Jun-2013 63.2%
Jul-2013 62.3%
Aug-2013 62.9%
Sep-2013 63.5%
Oct-2013 64.3%
Nov-2013 64.1%
Dec-2013 63.6%
Jan-2014 63.9%
Feb-2014 63.6%
Mar-2014 63.9%
Apr-2014 62.8%
May-2014 64.2%
Jun-2014 64.5%
Jul-2014 66.0%
Aug-2014 65.5%
Sep-2014 65.3%
Oct-2014 64.9%
Nov-2014 65.3%
Dec-2014 65.8%
Jan-2015 67.2%
Feb-2015 67.8%
Mar-2015 68.4%
Apr-2015 68.0%
May-2015 68.5%
Jun-2015 68.2%
Jul-2015 69.0%
Aug-2015 68.6%
Sep-2015 68.8%
Oct-2015 68.6%
Nov-2015 68.6%
Dec-2015 69.0%
Jan-2016 68.6%
Feb-2016 69.8%
Mar-2016 70.5%
Apr-2016 70.7%
May-2016 69.7%
Jun-2016 69.1%
Jul-2016 68.9%
Aug-2016 69.4%
Sep-2016 69.2%
Oct-2016 68.2%
Nov-2016 67.7%
Dec-2016 68.8%
Jan-2017 69.4%
Feb-2017 69.1%
Mar-2017 68.8%
Apr-2017 69.4%
May-2017 70.2%
Jun-2017 70.7%
Jul-2017 70.2%
Aug-2017 70.7%
Sep-2017 70.4%
Oct-2017 70.7%
Nov-2017 70.8%
Dec-2017 70.7%
Jan-2018 71.2%
Feb-2018 71.0%
Mar-2018 70.6%
Apr-2018 70.7%
May-2018 71.2%
Jun-2018 72.6%
Jul-2018 73.1%
Aug-2018 73.0%
Sep-2018 72.9%
Oct-2018 73.0%
Nov-2018 73.3%
Dec-2018 73.1%
Jan-2019 72.5%
Feb-2019 72.4%
Mar-2019 71.6%
Apr-2019 71.7%
May-2019 72.7%
Jun-2019 73.6%
Jul-2019 74.2%
Aug-2019 73.9%
Sep-2019 73.7%
Oct-2019 74.6%
Nov-2019 74.6%
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Note: Because of volatility in these data, the line reflects three month moving averages

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Flows: Unemployed to Employed (16 Years and Over) [LNS17100000], and Not in Labor Force to Employed (16 years and over) [LNS17200000], retrieved from FRED (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis).

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Further evidence of a steadily improving economy is the unemployment rate, which—after falling steadily for eight years from its peak in the fourth quarter of 2009—continued to fall through 2019 to a low of 3.5% in November, an average of 3.7% for the first 11 months of the year. It is now far below its Great Recession peak (10.0%), and significantly below its pre-Great Recession low of 4.4% in the spring of 2007. But despite today’s low water mark, there is still room for improvement. And evidence suggests that the unemployment rate may be overstating the strength of the labor market. The previous figure supports this claim, given that a record high share of newly employed workers are coming from outside the labor force and are not counted in the official measure of unemployment in the previous month, despite clearly being ready and willing to work.

Furthermore, other measures show that the current unemployment rate is associated with more slack in other labor market measures than in the past. For example, the share of “prime-age” (ages 25–54) workers with jobs—the prime-age employment-to-population ratio (EPOP)—has finally reached its pre-Great Recession peak but, as the figure below shows, is still significantly below its full employment peak of 81.9%. That suggests there still is ample room to pull in workers who remain idled.

Figure C

Employment-to-population ratio of workers ages 25–54, 1989–2020

Date Employment to population ratio
Jan-1989 80.0%
Feb-1989 79.9%
Mar-1989 79.9%
Apr-1989 79.8%
May-1989 79.8%
Jun-1989 79.8%
Jul-1989 79.8%
Aug-1989 79.9%
Sep-1989 80.0%
Oct-1989 79.9%
Nov-1989 80.2%
Dec-1989 80.1%
Jan-1990 80.2%
Feb-1990 80.2%
Mar-1990 80.1%
Apr-1990 79.9%
May-1990 79.9%
Jun-1990 79.8%
Jul-1990 79.6%
Aug-1990 79.5%
Sep-1990 79.4%
Oct-1990 79.4%
Nov-1990 79.2%
Dec-1990 79.0%
Jan-1991 78.9%
Feb-1991 78.9%
Mar-1991 78.7%
Apr-1991 79.0%
May-1991 78.6%
Jun-1991 78.7%
Jul-1991 78.6%
Aug-1991 78.5%
Sep-1991 78.6%
Oct-1991 78.5%
Nov-1991 78.4%
Dec-1991 78.3%
Jan-1992 78.4%
Feb-1992 78.2%
Mar-1992 78.2%
Apr-1992 78.4%
May-1992 78.4%
Jun-1992 78.5%
Jul-1992 78.4%
Aug-1992 78.4%
Sep-1992 78.3%
Oct-1992 78.2%
Nov-1992 78.2%
Dec-1992 78.2%
Jan-1993 78.2%
Feb-1993 78.1%
Mar-1993 78.2%
Apr-1993 78.2%
May-1993 78.5%
Jun-1993 78.6%
Jul-1993 78.6%
Aug-1993 78.8%
Sep-1993 78.6%
Oct-1993 78.7%
Nov-1993 79.0%
Dec-1993 79.0%
Jan-1994 78.9%
Feb-1994 78.9%
Mar-1994 78.9%
Apr-1994 79.0%
May-1994 79.2%
Jun-1994 78.8%
Jul-1994 79.1%
Aug-1994 79.2%
Sep-1994 79.6%
Oct-1994 79.6%
Nov-1994 79.8%
Dec-1994 79.8%
Jan-1995 79.7%
Feb-1995 80.0%
Mar-1995 79.9%
Apr-1995 79.8%
May-1995 79.7%
Jun-1995 79.5%
Jul-1995 79.7%
Aug-1995 79.6%
Sep-1995 79.8%
Oct-1995 79.8%
Nov-1995 79.7%
Dec-1995 79.7%
Jan-1996 79.8%
Feb-1996 79.9%
Mar-1996 79.9%
Apr-1996 79.9%
May-1996 80.0%
Jun-1996 80.1%
Jul-1996 80.4%
Aug-1996 80.5%
Sep-1996 80.4%
Oct-1996 80.6%
Nov-1996 80.5%
Dec-1996 80.5%
Jan-1997 80.5%
Feb-1997 80.4%
Mar-1997 80.6%
Apr-1997 80.7%
May-1997 80.6%
Jun-1997 80.9%
Jul-1997 81.1%
Aug-1997 81.3%
Sep-1997 81.1%
Oct-1997 81.1%
Nov-1997 81.0%
Dec-1997 81.0%
Jan-1998 81.0%
Feb-1998 81.0%
Mar-1998 81.0%
Apr-1998 81.1%
May-1998 81.0%
Jun-1998 81.0%
Jul-1998 81.1%
Aug-1998 81.2%
Sep-1998 81.3%
Oct-1998 81.1%
Nov-1998 81.2%
Dec-1998 81.3%
Jan-1999 81.8%
Feb-1999 81.5%
Mar-1999 81.3%
Apr-1999 81.3%
May-1999 81.4%
Jun-1999 81.4%
Jul-1999 81.2%
Aug-1999 81.3%
Sep-1999 81.3%
Oct-1999 81.5%
Nov-1999 81.6%
Dec-1999 81.5%
Jan-2000 81.8%
Feb-2000 81.8%
Mar-2000 81.7%
Apr-2000 81.9%
May-2000 81.5%
Jun-2000 81.5%
Jul-2000 81.3%
Aug-2000 81.1%
Sep-2000 81.1%
Oct-2000 81.1%
Nov-2000 81.3%
Dec-2000 81.4%
Jan-2001 81.4%
Feb-2001 81.3%
Mar-2001 81.3%
Apr-2001 80.9%
May-2001 80.8%
Jun-2001 80.6%
Jul-2001 80.5%
Aug-2001 80.2%
Sep-2001 80.2%
Oct-2001 79.9%
Nov-2001 79.7%
Dec-2001 79.8%
Jan-2002 79.6%
Feb-2002 79.8%
Mar-2002 79.6%
Apr-2002 79.5%
May-2002 79.4%
Jun-2002 79.2%
Jul-2002 79.1%
Aug-2002 79.3%
Sep-2002 79.4%
Oct-2002 79.2%
Nov-2002 78.8%
Dec-2002 79.0%
Jan-2003 78.9%
Feb-2003 78.9%
Mar-2003 79.0%
Apr-2003 79.1%
May-2003 78.9%
Jun-2003 78.9%
Jul-2003 78.8%
Aug-2003 78.7%
Sep-2003 78.6%
Oct-2003 78.6%
Nov-2003 78.7%
Dec-2003 78.8%
Jan-2004 78.9%
Feb-2004 78.8%
Mar-2004 78.7%
Apr-2004 78.9%
May-2004 79.0%
Jun-2004 79.1%
Jul-2004 79.2%
Aug-2004 79.0%
Sep-2004 79.0%
Oct-2004 79.0%
Nov-2004 79.1%
Dec-2004 78.9%
Jan-2005 79.2%
Feb-2005 79.2%
Mar-2005 79.2%
Apr-2005 79.4%
May-2005 79.5%
Jun-2005 79.2%
Jul-2005 79.4%
Aug-2005 79.6%
Sep-2005 79.4%
Oct-2005 79.3%
Nov-2005 79.2%
Dec-2005 79.3%
Jan-2006 79.6%
Feb-2006 79.7%
Mar-2006 79.8%
Apr-2006 79.6%
May-2006 79.7%
Jun-2006 79.8%
Jul-2006 79.8%
Aug-2006 79.8%
Sep-2006 79.9%
Oct-2006 80.1%
Nov-2006 80.0%
Dec-2006 80.1%
Jan-2007 80.3%
Feb-2007 80.1%
Mar-2007 80.2%
Apr-2007 80.0%
May-2007 80.0%
Jun-2007 79.9%
Jul-2007 79.8%
Aug-2007 79.8%
Sep-2007 79.7%
Oct-2007 79.6%
Nov-2007 79.7%
Dec-2007 79.7%
Jan-2008 80.0%
Feb-2008 79.9%
Mar-2008 79.8%
Apr-2008 79.6%
May-2008 79.5%
Jun-2008 79.4%
Jul-2008 79.2%
Aug-2008 78.8%
Sep-2008 78.8%
Oct-2008 78.4%
Nov-2008 78.1%
Dec-2008 77.6%
Jan-2009 77.0%
Feb-2009 76.7%
Mar-2009 76.2%
Apr-2009 76.2%
May-2009 75.9%
Jun-2009 75.9%
Jul-2009 75.8%
Aug-2009 75.6%
Sep-2009 75.1%
Oct-2009 75.0%
Nov-2009 75.2%
Dec-2009 74.8%
Jan-2010 75.1%
Feb-2010 75.1%
Mar-2010 75.1%
Apr-2010 75.4%
May-2010 75.1%
Jun-2010 75.2%
Jul-2010 75.1%
Aug-2010 75.0%
Sep-2010 75.1%
Oct-2010 75.0%
Nov-2010 74.8%
Dec-2010 75.0%
Jan-2011 75.2%
Feb-2011 75.1%
Mar-2011 75.3%
Apr-2011 75.1%
May-2011 75.2%
Jun-2011 75.0%
Jul-2011 75.0%
Aug-2011 75.1%
Sep-2011 74.9%
Oct-2011 74.9%
Nov-2011 75.3%
Dec-2011 75.4%
Jan-2012 75.5%
Feb-2012 75.5%
Mar-2012 75.7%
Apr-2012 75.7%
May-2012 75.7%
Jun-2012 75.6%
Jul-2012 75.6%
Aug-2012 75.7%
Sep-2012 76.0%
Oct-2012 76.1%
Nov-2012 75.8%
Dec-2012 76.0%
Jan-2013 75.6%
Feb-2013 75.8%
Mar-2013 75.8%
Apr-2013 75.8%
May-2013 76.0%
Jun-2013 75.9%
Jul-2013 76.0%
Aug-2013 76.0%
Sep-2013 76.0%
Oct-2013 75.6%
Nov-2013 76.1%
Dec-2013 76.1%
Jan-2014 76.4%
Feb-2014 76.4%
Mar-2014 76.5%
Apr-2014 76.5%
May-2014 76.4%
Jun-2014 76.9%
Jul-2014 76.7%
Aug-2014 76.9%
Sep-2014 76.8%
Oct-2014 76.9%
Nov-2014 76.9%
Dec-2014 77.1%
Jan-2015 77.1%
Feb-2015 77.2%
Mar-2015 77.1%
Apr-2015 77.2%
May-2015 77.2%
Jun-2015 77.4%
Jul-2015 77.1%
Aug-2015 77.3%
Sep-2015 77.2%
Oct-2015 77.2%
Nov-2015 77.4%
Dec-2015 77.4%
Jan-2016 77.7%
Feb-2016 77.8%
Mar-2016 77.9%
Apr-2016 77.8%
May-2016 77.8%
Jun-2016 77.9%
Jul-2016 78.0%
Aug-2016 77.9%
Sep-2016 78.0%
Oct-2016 78.2%
Nov-2016 78.1%
Dec-2016 78.1%
Jan-2017 78.2%
Feb-2017 78.3%
Mar-2017 78.5%
Apr-2017 78.6%
May-2017 78.5%
Jun-2017 78.6%
Jul-2017 78.7%
Aug-2017 78.5%
Sep-2017 78.9%
Oct-2017 78.8%
Nov-2017 78.9%
Dec-2017 79.0%
Jan-2018 79.0%
Feb-2018 79.3%
Mar-2018 79.2%
Apr-2018 79.2%
May-2018 79.3%
Jun-2018 79.4%
Jul-2018 79.5%
Aug-2018 79.4%
Sep-2018 79.3%
Oct-2018 79.7%
Nov-2018 79.6%
Dec-2018 79.6%
Jan-2019 79.8%
Feb-2019 79.9%
Mar-2019 79.8%
Apr-2019 79.7%
May-2019 79.7%
Jun-2019 79.8%
Jul-2019 79.5%
Aug-2019 80.1%
Sep-2019 80.1%
Oct-2019 80.3%
Nov-2019 80.3%
Dec-2019 80.4%
Jan-2020 80.6%
Feb-2020 80.5%
Mar-2020 79.6%
Apr-2020 69.7%
May-2020 71.4%
Jun-2020 73.5%
Jul-2020 73.8%
Aug-2020 75.3%
Sep-2020 75.0% 
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey public data

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The last thing I’ll note about the unemployment rate is that an average unemployment rate of 3.7% in 2019 obscures the great variance of experiences in the labor market for different population groups. The figure below shows unemployment rates by race and ethnicity. The black unemployment rate (in dark blue) has come down significantly in the recovery, but it still is considerably higher than the white unemployment rate (5.5% vs. 3.2%). Because of the roughly 2:1 ratio of black–white unemployment rates—historically persistent but not immutable with policy—each additional reduction in overall unemployment that can be attained actually provides disproportionate benefits to workers of color. Given that these workers have historically faced discriminatory barriers to labor market success, this is an enormously valuable benefit of chasing full employment.

Figure D

Unemployment rate of workers age 16 and older by race and ethnicity, 1995–2019

Date White Black Hispanic
Jan-1995 4.8 10.3 10.2
Feb-1995 4.7 10.1 9
Mar-1995 4.7 9.7 8.9
Apr-1995 5 10.7 8.9
May-1995 5 10 9.8
Jun-1995 4.9 10.7 9.1
Jul-1995 4.9 10.9 8.8
Aug-1995 4.9 11.1 9.6
Sep-1995 4.9 11.1 9.1
Oct-1995 4.9 10 9.4
Nov-1995 5 9.7 9.5
Dec-1995 4.9 10.2 9.3
Jan-1996 4.9 10.6 9.4
Feb-1996 4.8 10 9.6
Mar-1996 4.8 10.6 9.6
Apr-1996 4.8 10.7 9.6
May-1996 4.9 10.2 9.6
Jun-1996 4.6 10.4 8.8
Jul-1996 4.7 10.6 8.8
Aug-1996 4.4 10.6 8.8
Sep-1996 4.5 10.6 8.2
Oct-1996 4.5 10.7 8
Nov-1996 4.6 10.6 8.5
Dec-1996 4.6 10.5 7.4
Jan-1997 4.5 10.8 8.4
Feb-1997 4.5 10.7 8.2
Mar-1997 4.4 10.5 8.3
Apr-1997 4.3 10.2 8.2
May-1997 4.1 10.3 7.7
Jun-1997 4.2 10.8 7.5
Jul-1997 4.2 9.5 7.9
Aug-1997 4.2 9.4 7.2
Sep-1997 4.2 9.5 7.4
Oct-1997 4.1 9.5 7.8
Nov-1997 3.9 9.5 7
Dec-1997 3.9 10 7.3
Jan-1998 4 9.4 7.1
Feb-1998 3.9 9.3 6.9
Mar-1998 4 9.2 6.9
Apr-1998 3.7 9.1 6.7
May-1998 3.8 8.9 6.9
Jun-1998 3.9 8.8 7.4
Jul-1998 3.8 9.5 7.3
Aug-1998 3.9 8.8 7.4
Sep-1998 3.9 9.1 7.3
Oct-1998 3.9 8.6 7.2
Nov-1998 3.8 8.6 7.1
Dec-1998 3.8 7.7 7.7
Jan-1999 3.8 7.8 6.7
Feb-1999 3.8 8.2 6.7
Mar-1999 3.6 8 5.8
Apr-1999 3.8 7.8 7
May-1999 3.7 7.4 6.7
Jun-1999 3.8 7.7 6.6
Jul-1999 3.7 8.7 6.5
Aug-1999 3.7 7.7 6.5
Sep-1999 3.6 8.5 6.7
Oct-1999 3.5 8.4 6.4
Nov-1999 3.5 8 6
Dec-1999 3.5 7.8 5.8
Jan-2000 3.4 8.2 5.6
Feb-2000 3.6 8.1 5.7
Mar-2000 3.5 7.4 6.1
Apr-2000 3.4 7.0% 5.5
May-2000 3.5 7.7 5.8
Jun-2000 3.4 7.8 5.6
Jul-2000 3.5 7.7 5.8
Aug-2000 3.6 7.9 5.9
Sep-2000 3.5 7.3 5.8
Oct-2000 3.4% 7.3 5.1
Nov-2000 3.5 7.3 6
Dec-2000 3.5 7.4 5.7
Jan-2001 3.6 8.2 5.8
Feb-2001 3.7 7.7 6.1
Mar-2001 3.7 8.3 6.2
Apr-2001 3.9 8 6.4
May-2001 3.8 7.9 6.3
Jun-2001 4 8.3 6.6
Jul-2001 4 8 6.2
Aug-2001 4.3 9.1 6.5
Sep-2001 4.3 8.9 6.7
Oct-2001 4.7 9.5 7.1
Nov-2001 4.9 9.8 7.3
Dec-2001 5.1 10.1 7.7
Jan-2002 5.1 10 7.8
Feb-2002 5 9.9 7
Mar-2002 5 10.5 7.5
Apr-2002 5.2 10.7 8
May-2002 5.1 10.2 7.1
Jun-2002 5.1 10.5 7.4
Jul-2002 5.2 9.8 7.4
Aug-2002 5.1 9.8 7.5
Sep-2002 5.1 9.7 7.4
Oct-2002 5.1 9.8 7.9
Nov-2002 5.1 10.7 7.8
Dec-2002 5.1 11.3 7.9
Jan-2003 5.2 10.5 7.9
Feb-2003 5.1 10.7 7.7
Mar-2003 5.1 10.3 7.8
Apr-2003 5.3 10.9 7.6
May-2003 5.4 10.9 8
Jun-2003 5.5 11.5 8.3
Jul-2003 5.4 10.9 8
Aug-2003 5.4 10.9 7.7
Sep-2003 5.3 11.1 7.3
Oct-2003 5.1 11.4 7.5
Nov-2003 5.2 10.2 7.4
Dec-2003 5 10.1 6.7
Jan-2004 5 10.4 7.3
Feb-2004 4.9 9.7 7.4
Mar-2004 5.1 10.3 7.6
Apr-2004 5 9.8 7.1
May-2004 4.9 10.1 6.9
Jun-2004 5 10.2 6.6
Jul-2004 4.7 11 6.8
Aug-2004 4.7 10.5 6.8
Sep-2004 4.6 10.3 6.8
Oct-2004 4.6 10.8 6.8
Nov-2004 4.6 10.7 6.7
Dec-2004 4.5 10.7 6.6
Jan-2005 4.5 10.6 6
Feb-2005 4.6 10.9 6.3
Mar-2005 4.5 10.5 5.8
Apr-2005 4.4 10.3 6.4
May-2005 4.4 10.1 6
Jun-2005 4.3 10.2 5.7
Jul-2005 4.2 9.2 5.5
Aug-2005 4.2 9.7 5.8
Sep-2005 4.4 9.4 6.4
Oct-2005 4.4 9.1 6
Nov-2005 4.3 10.6 6.1
Dec-2005 4.2 9.2 6.1
Jan-2006 4.1 8.9 5.5
Feb-2006 4.1 9.5 5.4
Mar-2006 4 9.5 5.2
Apr-2006 4.1 9.4 5.5
May-2006 4.1 8.7 5
Jun-2006 4.1 8.9 5.2
Jul-2006 4.1 9.5 5.2
Aug-2006 4.1 8.8 5.3
Sep-2006 3.9 9 5.5
Oct-2006 3.9 8.4 4.8%
Nov-2006 4 8.5 5.1
Dec-2006 3.9 8.3 5
Jan-2007 4.2 7.9 5.5
Feb-2007 4.1 8 5.1
Mar-2007 3.8 8.4 5
Apr-2007 4 8.3 5.6
May-2007 3.9 8.3 5.8
Jun-2007 4.1 8.5 5.5
Jul-2007 4.2 8.1 5.9
Aug-2007 4.2 7.6 5.5
Sep-2007 4.2 8 5.9
Oct-2007 4.1 8.5 5.7
Nov-2007 4.2 8.5 5.9
Dec-2007 4.4 9 6.3
Jan-2008 4.4 9.1 6.3
Feb-2008 4.4 8.4 6.2
Mar-2008 4.5 9.2 6.9
Apr-2008 4.4 8.6 7.1
May-2008 4.8 9.6 6.9
Jun-2008 5 9.4 7.6
Jul-2008 5.2 10 7.5
Aug-2008 5.4 10.6 8
Sep-2008 5.4 11.3 8
Oct-2008 5.9 11.4 8.8
Nov-2008 6.2 11.5 8.7
Dec-2008 6.7 12.1 9.4
Jan-2009 7.1 12.7 10.1
Feb-2009 7.6 13.7 11.3
Mar-2009 8 13.7 11.7
Apr-2009 8.1 15 11.4
May-2009 8.5 15 12.3
Jun-2009 8.7 14.8 12.1
Jul-2009 8.7 14.8 12.5
Aug-2009 8.9 14.8 13%
Sep-2009 8.9 15.3 12.6
Oct-2009 9.2% 15.8 12.8
Nov-2009 9.2 15.7 12.4
Dec-2009 9 16.1 12.8
Jan-2010 8.8 16.5 12.9
Feb-2010 8.9 16.1 12.7
Mar-2010 8.9 16.8 12.9
Apr-2010 9 16.6 12.5
May-2010 8.7 15.5 12
Jun-2010 8.6 15.2 12.3
Jul-2010 8.5 15.6 12.2
Aug-2010 8.6 15.9 12
Sep-2010 8.6 16 12.3
Oct-2010 8.6 15.6 12.3
Nov-2010 8.9 16.2 12.9
Dec-2010 8.5 15.5 12.9
Jan-2011 8.1 15.8 12.3
Feb-2011 8.1 15.5 11.8
Mar-2011 8 15.8 11.6
Apr-2011 8.1 16.5 11.9
May-2011 7.9 16.3 11.6
Jun-2011 8.1 16.2 11.5
Jul-2011 8 15.9 11.2
Aug-2011 7.9 16.4 11.2
Sep-2011 7.9 15.9 11.2
Oct-2011 7.9 14.6 11.3
Nov-2011 7.7 15.6 11.2
Dec-2011 7.5 15.4 11.1
Jan-2012 7.4 13.6 10.7
Feb-2012 7.4 14 10.9
Mar-2012 7.3 14 10.6
Apr-2012 7.4 13.3 10.3
May-2012 7.4 13.5 10.9
Jun-2012 7.3 14.5 10.9
Jul-2012 7.3 14.2 10.2
Aug-2012 7.2 13.8 10.1
Sep-2012 7 13.6 9.7
Oct-2012 6.9 14.1 10
Nov-2012 6.8 13.3 9.9
Dec-2012 6.9 14 9.6
Jan-2013 7.1 13.7 9.7
Feb-2013 6.8 13.8 9.7
Mar-2013 6.7 13 9.3
Apr-2013 6.7 13.3 9
May-2013 6.7 13.4 9
Jun-2013 6.6 14.2 9.1
Jul-2013 6.5 12.6 9.4
Aug-2013 6.4 12.8 9.2
Sep-2013 6.3 13 8.8
Oct-2013 6.3 12.8 9.1
Nov-2013 6.1 12.3 8.7
Dec-2013 5.9 11.9 8.3
Jan-2014 5.7 12.1 8.3
Feb-2014 5.8 11.8 8.2
Mar-2014 5.8 12.1 7.9
Apr-2014 5.3 11.6 7.2
May-2014 5.4 11.4 7.7
Jun-2014 5.3 11 7.8
Jul-2014 5.3 11.6 7.7
Aug-2014 5.3 11.4 7.4
Sep-2014 5.1 11 6.8
Oct-2014 4.9 10.6 6.8
Nov-2014 5 10.9 6.6
Dec-2014 4.7 10.6 6.4
Jan-2015 4.9 10.3 6.7
Feb-2015 4.7 10.1 6.8
Mar-2015 4.8 9.9 6.8
Apr-2015 4.7 9.8 6.8
May-2015 4.8 10.3 6.8
Jun-2015 4.6 9.6 6.8
Jul-2015 4.5 9.1 6.9
Aug-2015 4.4 9.4 6.6
Sep-2015 4.4 9.3 6.2
Oct-2015 4.4 8.9 6.3
Nov-2015 4.4 9.4 6.4
Dec-2015 4.4 8.5 6.2
Jan-2016 4.3 8.8 5.8
Feb-2016 4.2 8.6 5.4
Mar-2016 4.3 8.9 5.5
Apr-2016 4.4 8.9 6.1
May-2016 4.2 8.2 5.6
Jun-2016 4.3 8.7 5.9
Jul-2016 4.2 8.4 5.5
Aug-2016 4.4 8 5.6
Sep-2016 4.4 8.4 6.4
Oct-2016 4.4 8.3 5.7
Nov-2016 4.2 8 5.7
Dec-2016 4.2 7.9 5.9
Jan-2017 4.3 7.7 5.8
Feb-2017 4 8 5.5
Mar-2017 3.9 7.9 5
Apr-2017 3.8 7.9 5.1
May-2017 3.8 7.7 5.1
Jun-2017 3.8 7.1 4.9
Jul-2017 3.7 7.4 5.2
Aug-2017 3.8 7.6 5.1
Sep-2017 3.7 7.1 5.1
Oct-2017 3.5 7.3 4.9
Nov-2017 3.7 7.3 4.8
Dec-2017 3.7 6.7 4.9
Jan-2018 3.5 7.7 5
Feb-2018 3.7 6.8 4.9
Mar-2018 3.6 6.8 5.1
Apr-2018 3.5 6.5 4.8
May-2018 3.5 5.9 4.9
Jun-2018 3.5 6.5 4.6
Jul-2018 3.3 6.6 4.5
Aug-2018 3.4 6.3 4.7
Sep-2018 3.3 6 4.5
Oct-2018 3.3 6.2 4.4
Nov-2018 3.4 6 4.5
Dec-2018 3.4 6.6 4.4
Jan-2019 3.5 6.8 4.9
Feb-2019 3.3 7 4.3
Mar-2019 3.4 6.7 4.7
Apr-2019 3.1 6.7 4.2
May-2019 3.3 6.2 4.2
Jun-2019 3.3 6 4.3
Jul-2019 3.3 6 4.5
Aug-2019 3.4 5.5 4.2
Sep-2019 3.2 5.5 3.9
Oct-2019 3.2 5.4 4.1
Nov-2019 3.2 5.5 4.2
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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey, public data series

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The last, but not by any stretch least, measure to watch on Friday is nominal wage growth. In November, nominal wages grew at 3.1% over the last year. What is particularly striking in the figure below is the slowdown in the rate of growth in private-sector wage growth over the last several months, and its divergence from the production/nonsupervisory series. After hitting a peak of 3.4% growth in February, private-sector wage growth has been slowing. The average growth rate in 2019 so far remains higher than in 2018 (3.2% vs. 3.0%), but the recent trend is troubling. Signs of slightly stronger wage growth among the approximately 82% of workers in production/nonsupervisory jobs is promising but doesn’t warrant celebration on its own because, as the figure shows, periods of stronger wage growth for production/nonsupervisory workers in this recovery tend to be followed by periods of relatively weaker growth.

Figure E

Nominal wage growth has been far below target in the recovery: Year-over-year change in private-sector nominal average hourly earnings, 2007–2020

Date All nonfarm employees Production/nonsupervisory workers
Mar-2007 3.39% 4.11%
Apr-2007 3.07% 3.85%
May-2007 3.53% 4.08%
Jun-2007 3.61% 4.19%
Jul-2007 3.25% 4.11%
Aug-2007 3.40% 4.04%
Sep-2007 3.09% 4.09%
Oct-2007 3.03% 3.84%
Nov-2007 3.13% 3.89%
Dec-2007 2.97% 3.81%
Jan-2008 2.91% 3.74%
Feb-2008 2.85% 3.79%
Mar-2008 3.09% 3.83%
Apr-2008 2.79% 3.76%
May-2008 3.02% 3.75%
Jun-2008 2.72% 3.50%
Jul-2008 3.01% 3.67%
Aug-2008 3.33% 3.89%
Sep-2008 3.23% 3.64%
Oct-2008 3.32% 3.81%
Nov-2008 3.60% 3.86%
Dec-2008 3.59% 3.90%
Jan-2009 3.68% 3.78%
Feb-2009 3.43% 3.60%
Mar-2009 3.28% 3.47%
Apr-2009 3.37% 3.35%
May-2009 2.93% 3.06%
Jun-2009 2.83% 2.94%
Jul-2009 2.73% 2.71%
Aug-2009 2.44% 2.70%
Sep-2009 2.49% 2.75%
Oct-2009 2.53% 2.68%
Nov-2009 2.19% 2.68%
Dec-2009 1.91% 2.45%
Jan-2010 2.00% 2.61%
Feb-2010 2.09% 2.55%
Mar-2010 1.77% 2.22%
Apr-2010 1.81% 2.38%
May-2010 1.95% 2.59%
Jun-2010 1.81% 2.48%
Jul-2010 1.85% 2.42%
Aug-2010 1.75% 2.36%
Sep-2010 1.84% 2.19%
Oct-2010 1.93% 2.45%
Nov-2010 1.65% 2.18%
Dec-2010 1.79% 2.07%
Jan-2011 1.96% 2.33%
Feb-2011 1.87% 2.12%
Mar-2011 1.87% 2.12%
Apr-2011 1.91% 2.11%
May-2011 2.04% 2.10%
Jun-2011 2.13% 2.05%
Jul-2011 2.26% 2.26%
Aug-2011 1.99% 1.88%
Sep-2011 1.94% 1.94%
Oct-2011 2.07% 1.88%
Nov-2011 1.98% 1.82%
Dec-2011 1.98% 1.77%
Jan-2012 1.71% 1.40%
Feb-2012 1.75% 1.45%
Mar-2012 2.14% 1.71%
Apr-2012 2.05% 1.65%
May-2012 1.74% 1.39%
Jun-2012 1.96% 1.60%
Jul-2012 1.77% 1.39%
Aug-2012 1.82% 1.39%
Sep-2012 1.99% 1.54%
Oct-2012 1.51% 1.18%
Nov-2012 1.94% 1.43%
Dec-2012 2.24% 1.74%
Jan-2013 2.24% 1.79%
Feb-2013 2.15% 2.04%
Mar-2013 1.93% 1.88%
Apr-2013 2.05% 1.83%
May-2013 2.14% 1.88%
Jun-2013 2.17% 2.03%
Jul-2013 2.00% 2.03%
Aug-2013 2.30% 2.18%
Sep-2013 2.08% 2.28%
Oct-2013 2.25% 2.32%
Nov-2013 2.24% 2.37%
Dec-2013 1.85% 2.21%
Jan-2014 1.89% 2.26%
Feb-2014 2.31% 2.55%
Mar-2014 2.10% 2.45%
Apr-2014 1.97% 2.35%
May-2014 2.13% 2.44%
Jun-2014 1.96% 2.24%
Jul-2014 2.09% 2.33%
Aug-2014 2.16% 2.48%
Sep-2014 2.08% 2.17%
Oct-2014 2.03% 2.22%
Nov-2014 2.03% 2.22%
Dec-2014 1.99% 1.77%
Jan-2015 2.15% 2.01%
Feb-2015 1.89% 1.46%
Mar-2015 2.18% 1.85%
Apr-2015 2.26% 1.95%
May-2015 2.30% 2.19%
Jun-2015 2.21% 2.14%
Jul-2015 2.12% 2.04%
Aug-2015 2.24% 1.98%
Sep-2015 2.24% 2.13%
Oct-2015 2.48% 2.37%
Nov-2015 2.39% 2.12%
Dec-2015 2.52% 2.61%
Jan-2016 2.55% 2.45%
Feb-2016 2.42% 2.60%
Mar-2016 2.46% 2.49%
Apr-2016 2.57% 2.58%
May-2016 2.48% 2.29%
Jun-2016 2.60% 2.48%
Jul-2016 2.80% 2.62%
Aug-2016 2.47% 2.51%
Sep-2016 2.63% 2.51%
Oct-2016 2.74% 2.41%
Nov-2016 2.65% 2.45%
Dec-2016 2.65% 2.45%
Jan-2017 2.52% 2.35%
Feb-2017 2.76% 2.44%
Mar-2017 2.59% 2.24%
Apr-2017 2.51% 2.24%
May-2017 2.46% 2.33%
Jun-2017 2.50% 2.32%
Jul-2017 2.57% 2.32%
Aug-2017 2.57% 2.31%
Sep-2017 2.87% 2.59%
Oct-2017 2.32% 2.21%
Nov-2017 2.47% 2.35%
Dec-2017 2.70% 2.48%
Jan-2018 2.73% 2.52%
Feb-2018 2.57% 2.47%
Mar-2018 2.80% 2.79%
Apr-2018 2.83% 2.83%
May-2018 2.94% 2.91%
Jun-2018 2.93% 2.91%
Jul-2018 2.85% 2.85%
Aug-2018 3.18% 3.08%
Sep-2018 3.02% 2.97%
Oct-2018 3.32% 3.25%
Nov-2018 3.35% 3.46%
Dec-2018 3.38% 3.54%
Jan-2019 3.26% 3.35%
Feb-2019 3.51% 3.53%
Mar-2019 3.43% 3.51%
Apr-2019 3.34% 3.46%
May-2019 3.30% 3.58%
Jun-2019 3.40% 3.53%
Jul-2019 3.47% 3.65%
Aug-2019 3.45% 3.73%
Sep-2019 3.11% 3.67%
Oct-2019 3.22% 3.76%
Nov-2019 3.28% 3.52%
Dec-2019 3.01% 3.25%
Jan-2020 3.08% 3.33%
Feb-2020 3.00% 3.32%
Mar-2020 3.35% 3.52%
Apr-2020 7.98% 7.67%
May-2020 6.57% 6.62%
Jun-2020 4.86% 5.37%
Jul-2020 4.63% 4.67%
Aug-2020 4.58% 4.82%
Sep-2020 4.65%  4.60%

 

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Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics public data series

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On the whole, I expect December’s numbers on the economy to confirm the patterns we’ve seen from this year so far. While the economy continues to move the right direction—with the exception of the recent troubling wage trends—we still have a ways to go to reach the type of economy we experienced in 2000.