Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Who's Unemployed?

The following information is from Table A-7 of the BLS employment report:

Ages 16-19 have a 27.1% unemployment rate while those aged 20-24 have an unemployment rate of 15.6%.

Let's think about those numbers for a minute. Teens are unemployed in high numbers. While that is not good, it's also important to remember this point: these are people who should be in school -- that is, being a student is their primary job. Is a high unemployment rate for this group fatal?

I am more concerned about the 20-24 year unemployment rate because there is a large population of people who I am assuming need some work in college. But again, this is an age when the primary job (at least through age ~22-23) is education rather than employment.

The unemployment rate for 25-34 is 10.2%. Simply put, that is a terrible number.

The unemployment rate for 35-44 is 8.8%, the unemployment rate for 45-54 is 7.9% and the rate of 55%+ is 7.1%.

I'm beginning to wonder if the numbers for each group over 35 is what a new structural unemployment will look like? That is -- are we moving into a period when higher unemployment rates are standard? Most of us have gotten use to the idea that 5% is "full employment". But is that level even possible or realistic right now?

Table A-4 adds a few important details:

Unemployment rate by educational achievement level:

High-school drop-out: 15.3%
High-School graduate: 10.5%
Some college/associate: 9%
Bachelor's Degree and Higher: 5%

This ties in with an article on the front page of today's WSJ:

The downturn that started in December 2007 delivered a body blow to U.S. workers. In two years, the economy shed 7.2 million jobs, pushing the jobless rate from 5% to 10%, according to the Labor Department. The severity of the recession is reshaping the labor market. Some lost jobs will come back. But some are gone forever, going the way of typewriter repairmen and streetcar operators.

Many of the jobs created by the booms in the housing and credit markets, for example, have likely been permanently erased by the subsequent bust.

"The tremendous amount of economic activity associated with housing, I can't see that coming back," says Harvard University economist Lawrence Katz. "That was a very unhealthy part of the economy."