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Top 30 Shocking Unemployment Statistics [Infographic]

by Darko Jacimovic

Even the greatest economies in the world struggle with unemployment—including countries with a high life satisfaction index. In fact, the unemployment statistics currently show that Denmark, which according to the index is the best country to live in, has an unemployment rate of 3.8%.

The United States isn’t exempt from this issue. Some parts of the country suffer more, others less. And some of the past years were tougher than others. In these 30 fascinating statistics, we’ll analyze unemployment in America—and compare it to the rest of the world—by going through past and present data

The 10 Key Unemployment Statistics and Facts

  • In 1919, the unemployment rate was 1.4%.
  • In 1939, the unemployment rate reached 17.2%.
  • Currently, the US unemployment rate is 3.7%.
  • Right now, there are 6.1 million Americans who can’t find work.
  • Vermont has the least unemployed people in the US.
  • Alaska is the state with the highest unemployment rate.
  • 1.2 million Americans have been unable to find work for 27 months or longer.
  • 8.5% of those aged 16–24 are unemployed.
  • As of July 2019, 4 million Americans have had to work part-time in the absence of full-time employment.
  • The average hourly earnings in the US have been increasing by 0.2% a month.

The US Unemployment Rate by Year

Unemployment Statistics - Infographic

1. The unemployment rate in 1919 was 1.4%.

(Wikipedia)

Before the Great Depression, estimates show that just 1.4% of the US population who could work had no job opportunities come their way. The low unemployment rate quickly changed, as evidenced by the statistics below.

2. 1929’s unemployment rate was 3.2%.

(The balance)

According to unemployment statistics back then, everything was looking great for the US economy in 1929. At least until October 24. The stock market crashed, and the top 30 US companies lost over $30 billion in market value, in just 4 days. This led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and brought about the Great Depression, which lasted throughout the 1930s.

3. The unemployment rate in 1939 was 17.2%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The unemployment rate during the Great Depression reached 25% (1933), so when it lowered to 17.2%, it was a huge relief for the nation. 1939 was also one of the few years in the last century when there was 0% inflation. However, it was also the year when World War II started, and the US joined in two years later. The minimum wage was $0.30, or $5.49 when adjusted for inflation.

4. In 1949, the unemployment rate was 6.6%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The lowest unemployment rate in US history was just 1.2%—it was recorded in 1944, when close to 10% of the population was fighting overseas. In 1949, four years after the war, the US had a negative GDP growth (–0.6%) and inflation went down –2.1%. The minimum wage was set at $0.40, or $4.34 in today’s economy.

5. The percentage of the population that was unemployed in 1959 was 5.3%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Under Eisenhower, America was in a state of economic expansion, after just coming out of a slight recession in 1957. The average unemployment rate for the year was 5.3%, the GDP grew by 6.9%, and inflation was at 1.8%. The minimum wage was $1.00, unchanged from 1956. It took two more years for it to climb to $1.15. $1 in 1959 is equivalent to $8.71 today.

6. The unemployment rate in 1969 was 3.5%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Nixon took office in 1969, taking over the country with one of the lowest unemployment rates in close to 20 years. The national unemployment rate started climbing again less than a year later. GDP growth was at 3.1%, and inflation was at 6.2%. The minimum wage was at $1.60, or $10.87 today.

7. In 1979, unemployment was at 6%.

(The balance, Splicer, Wikipedia, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Even after federal measures against inflation were taken, it reached 9% in 1979. GDP growth was positive, at 3.2%. The unemployment rates over this time period bounced around. Jimmy Carter, who’s been ranked as the 7th worst president of all time, was in charge of the country. The minimum wage reached $2.90 in 1979, equivalent to $9.68 today.

8. 1989’s unemployment rate was 5.4%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

30 years ago, the GDP was growing by 3.7%, and inflation was at $4.6%. Both Reagan and Bush were in office that year, and the unemployment data shows that neither of them did great on this front. The minimum wage was $3.35. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wage workers were earning only $6.80 per hour.

9. The unemployment rate in 1999 was 4.0%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

In 1999, when Clinton was the head of state, America had a 4.8% yearly GDP growth and 2.7% inflation. During this time, the unemployment rate was at the lowest it had been since 1969. The minimum wage was $5.15, or $7.84 in 2019 dollars.

10. The rate of unemployment in 2009 was 9.9%.

(The balance, Splicer, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

After 2008’s financial crisis, the American people had a difficult period to face. The GDP was negative, at –2.5%, inflation was rising, at 2.7%, and jobs were scarce. The minimum wage was at $7.25, or $8.60 when translated to today’s buying power.

Unemployment statistics - Jobs

The Current US Unemployment Rate

11. The unemployment rate in 2019 is 3.7%.

(Trading Economics)

The latest available data from July 2019 shows that the unemployment rate held steady in June and July, after jumping 0.1% from May to June due to recent increase in the number of remote workers. However, compared to the end of last year, when it was at 3.8%, US job seekers are in a slightly better position.

12. The US marketplace has had 172,000 new jobs per month in 2019.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Under Trump, the unemployment rate might get even higher by the end of the year. More than halfway through 2019, the US has averaged 172,000 new job openings per month for the year. Last year, the nation averaged a monthly gain of 223,000 new positions.

13. 6.1 million Americans can’t find work.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

3.4% of adult males and the same percentage of adult females in the US are unable to find work, according to data on the US unemployment rate from 2019. Additionally, 12.8% of teenagers who are capable and willing to work can’t find employment. 

14. 1.2 million Americans have been unemployed for the long-term.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

For someone to be considered long-term unemployed, they need to be out of work for 27 weeks or more. While this number has actually dropped recently, it still means that almost 1.2 million people have been unable to find work for more than 6 months. 19.2% of the unemployed belong to this category.

15. Alaska has an unemployment rate of 6.4%.

(Statista)

As of June 2019, Alaska is the toughest US state to find work in. A total of 22,378 people are unemployed in this state, according to data on the US unemployment rate for 2019. DC comes next, with an unemployment rate of 5.6%, followed by Mississippi. All other states are below the 5% mark.

16. Vermont has an unemployment rate of 2.1%.

(Statista)

Vermont is on the other end of the scale. With an unemployment rate of just 2.1%, it’s the easiest state to find work in. In fact, just 7,245 people are unemployed in the Green Mountain State.

17. Of the US’s metropolitan areas, El Centro, California, has the highest unemployment rate.

(Statista)

Throughout the US, the unemployment rate varies, getting noticeably high in some locations. El Centro is the worst example of this, with an unemployment rate of 18.1%. Yuma, Arizona, is the second one, with 17%, while all other US metro areas manage to keep their unemployment rates under 10%. Interestingly, 10 of the 20 highest unemployment rates in metro areas are in California. You can see the top 20 metropolitan areas in the US unemployment rate graph here.

18. 8.5% of those aged 16–24 are unemployed.

(Statista)

According to data from July 2019, 8.5% of the young adults who wish to work are unable to find a job. Considering that the percentage was even higher in January (9.1%), some progress is being seen, at least for this demographic.

19. College graduates with some experience face an unemployment rate of 2.2%.

(Southern New Hampshire University)

The current unemployment rate for recent college graduates is the same as with the rest of the unemployed population: 3.7%. However, those with some work experience are much more likely to find work. In fact, they are almost twice as likely to find work than those with just a high school diploma (5.2%).

Unemployment statistics - Office

US Jobs Report

20. 224,000 jobs were added to the US economy in June 2019.

(CNBC)

June was a decent month for the US economy—this number was significantly greater than the previously predicted 165,000 new jobs. According to a detailed analysis of the month, here’s the list of industries that contributed the most to new job openings:

  • Health Care: 51,000
  • Transportation: 35,000
  • Warehousing: 24,000
  • Construction: 21,000
  • Manufacturing: 17,000

21. The average hourly earnings have been increasing by 0.2% a month.

(CNBS)

Even though a slightly bigger monthly increase in hourly earnings was expected, the Labor Department’s Jobs Report points out that wages have gone up 3.1% over the last 12 months. The average employee in the US works 34.4 hours per week, which is a figure that’s been standing unchanged for months.

22. Employees on private nonfarm payrolls earn $27.98 per hour, on average.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The list of employees on private nonfarm payrolls includes all US workers except for general government, private household, nonprofit organization, and farm employees. The Bureau of Labor statistics on unemployment and job growth show that, in July, they received a raise of $0.08, bringing them to a 3.2% increase in average hourly earnings for 2019.

23. Manufacturing employees work 40.4 hours per week.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Manufacturing seems to be the busiest industry. When its employees work overtime, it’s for an average of 3.2 hours per week. Production and nonsupervisory employees in other fields (among private nonfarm payrolls) worked an average of 33.5 hours per week in July 2019.

24. 4 million Americans are now employed part-time instead of full-time as of July 2019.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The unemployment statistics show that a large portion of the working population is slowly being pushed out of work. Millions of Americans who want to have full-time positions and make an honest living are unable to do so due to economic reasons. Their employers are unable to assign them the hours needed for full-time employment.

Unemployment statistics- Mac

Unemployment Data: The Worst and Best Countries in the World

For those thinking the US has it bad, here are the three countries with the highest unemployment rates in the world, as well as the three with the best rates. But keep in mind that the notably high and low rates aren’t always reflective of the country’s economic state.

25. According to the CIA’s 2017 data, Syrians have the hardest time finding work. 

(Central Intelligence Agency, The Guardian)

Unemployment statistics for this war-torn country have shown that Syria has an unemployment rate of 50%. Even those who find work aren’t doing great, with an average monthly salary of $300. 

26. As of January 2018, 15.7% of Senegal’s labor population was unemployed.

(CIA, Trading Economics)

This West African country, home to 15.85 million people, has been facing severe unemployment. Their unemployment rates historically show unfavorable trends: in 2007, the country faced an unemployment rate of 48%. The condition has improved since, though the country still doesn’t compare to the rest of the world. 

27. Djibouti has an unemployment rate of 40%.

(CIA)

The second African country on the list, Djibouti has a population of just under 1 million. According to the CIA’s 2017 estimates, 40% of those capable of work can’t find a job.

28. Cambodia has an unemployment rate of just 0.3%.

(FactsMaps)

If you were thinking that Switzerland, Germany, or Japan would be among the countries with the lowest unemployment rate, you’d be wrong. Statistics on the worldwide unemployment rate for 2019 show that Cambodia, a country with over 16 million inhabitants, ranks first place. However, 51% of the jobs in Cambodia are not salaried, instead they’re related to the farming industry. 

29. Qatar’s unemployment rate is only slightly higher, at 0.6%.

(FactsMaps, Wiki)

Good news for this Asian country’s population of 2.63 million. For comparison, additional unemployment stats put Japan in 21st place (with unemployment at 2.9%), Switzerland 22nd (3%), and Germany 30th (3.8%), for those curious. The US takes the 42nd place on the list.

30. Just 0.7% of Thailand’s population is unemployed.

(FactsMaps)

Thailand finds itself on this list for the same reason its two predecessors did: the majority of the population doesn’t work for a salary, but rather in farming. 

Unemployment statistics - Cambodia

The US Employment Situation: A Summary

The employment situation in the US is not necessarily an enviable one. With a labor force consisting of 160 million individuals, you can’t expect every single one of them to have work. On the other hand, a country needs to ensure that its people can afford the basic necessities after putting in an honest day’s work. Instead, 1.2 million of them have been left without a job for 27 months or more.

The issue of unemployment is a complex one, and it should be left to the experts to deal with. What we can do is discuss the past and current unemployment statistics in order to help educate upcoming generations on what they need to do to qualify for and keep a job, once the time arrives.

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