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Employment Projections

Macro Projections Evaluation: 2008–2018

BLS projects an economy at full employment. Therefore it is most informative to assess the accuracy of projections through comparisons to an economy at full employment, also known as potential values1. Potential values are available for GDP and the unemployment rate. Actual values, although affected by cyclicality and not directly comparable, are also included for reference. For more information, refer to our evaluation methodology.


The BLS 2008-18 projection of GDP was significantly higher, 6.5 percent, than potential GDP2. When the projection was made the economy was in the midst of the 2007-2009 recession. The BLS projection outperformed a naïve projection3 that had a difference of 17.1 percent from potential (See Table).

Table 1. GDP projections, actual, and potential (in millions, $2012)
Levels CBO Potential Estimate
Difference in Percent

BLS 2018 projection

19,737 1,201 6.5


22,497 3,961 21.4


18,638 102 0.6

CBO Potential

18,536 . .

Note: Updated January 31, 2020


Gross Domestic Product, historical and projected


View Chart Data


Unemployment Rate

BLS projected an unemployment rate that ended up being higher than potential, 5.1 percent compared to 4.6.

Table 2. Unemployment rate, projected, actual, and potential


CBO Potential Estimate


in Percent

BLS 2008 projection

5.1 0.5 11.1


3.9 -0.9 -19.4

CBO Potential

4.6 . .

Note: Data as of January 31, 2020

Unemployment rate


View Chart Data



1 Potential values are estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). For more information on the potential output assumption and how it relates to BLS projections see

2 Projections in 2008 were done in 2000 dollars. CBO estimates are in 2012 dollars. Projected data are reweighted to 2012 dollars in order to compare the two series.

3 For the naïve model, the average growth rate for CBO's potential GDP (at the base year 2008) is calculated for the past 10 years, and projected forward 10 years to 2018.

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Last Modified Date: December 15, 2023