Article

April 2015

Continued improvement in U.S. labor market in 2014

The U.S. labor market continued to improve in 2014, with both a decline in unemployment and an increase in the share of the population employed; high levels of long-term joblessness and involuntary part-time employment, however, persisted.

Unemployment in the United States continued to decline in 2014, with the number of unemployed falling by 1.9 million over the year, to 8.9 million in the fourth quarter. The unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent by year’s end—1.0 percentage point above the prerecessionary rate of 2007.1 Employment, as measured by the Current Population Survey (CPS; see accompanying box), grew at a faster pace than it did the previous year, expanding by 3.1 million in 2014, and the employment-to-population ratio increased by 0.7 percentage point following a slight decline in 2013.2 The civilian labor force—the sum of the employed and the unemployed—grew by 1.3 million, reaching 156.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. The labor force participation rate, however, held fairly steady over the year.

This article summarizes changes in key labor market measures from the CPS during 2014, both overall and for various demographic groups. The article also examines changes in usual weekly earnings and in labor force status flows, and reviews the employment situations of veterans, people with a disability, and the foreign born.

Unemployment

The number of people unemployed in 2014 fell by 1.9 million, to 8.9 million. The drop was the largest over-the-year decline in unemployment since the recent recession and was preceded by 3 years of declines ranging from 1.2 million to 1.4 million. Similarly, the national unemployment rate showed the largest over-the-year decline since the end of the last recession, dropping 1.3 percentage points, to 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014. The unemployment rate was 4.7 percent prior to the onset of the 2007–2009 economic downturn and had climbed to a peak of 9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. (See figure 1 and table 1.)

Table 1. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older, by age and selected characteristics, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2013–2014 (levels in thousands)
CharacteristicFourth quarter 20132014Change, fourth quarter 2013 to fourth quarter 2014
First quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter

Total, 16 years and older:

      

Civilian labor force

154,989155,785155,583155,971156,2581,269

Participation rate (percent)

62.963.062.862.862.8-.1

Employed

144,205145,434145,946146,486147,3443,139

Employment-to-population ratio

58.558.958.959.059.2.7

Unemployed

10,78410,3509,6379,4848,914-1,870

Unemployment rate (percent)

7.06.66.26.15.7-1.3

Men, 20 years and older:

      

Civilian labor force

79,53079,96979,91080,18280,108578

Participation rate (percent)

72.072.171.971.971.7-.3

Employed

74,25275,00375,27575,72975,8771,625

Employment-to-population ratio

67.267.767.767.967.9.7

Unemployed

5,2794,9664,6344,4534,231-1,048

Unemployment rate (percent)

6.66.25.85.65.3-1.3

Women, 20 years and older:

      

Civilian labor force

69,78970,24470,07170,16370,355566

Participation rate (percent)

58.558.758.558.458.4-.1

Employed

65,48466,03066,16966,24366,6951,211

Employment-to-population ratio

54.955.255.255.155.4.5

Unemployed

4,3054,2133,9023,9203,660-645

Unemployment rate (percent)

6.26.05.65.65.2-1.0

Total, 16 to 19 years:

      

Civilian labor force

5,6705,5725,6025,6255,796126

Participation rate (percent)

33.933.433.733.834.91.0

Employed

4,4694,4014,5024,5144,773304

Employment-to-population ratio

26.726.427.027.228.72.0

Unemployed

1,2001,1711,1001,1111,023-177

Unemployment rate (percent)

21.221.019.619.817.7-3.5

White:

      

Civilian labor force

122,970123,564123,236123,186123,246276

Participation rate (percent)

63.163.463.163.062.9-.2

Employed

115,435116,467116,674116,757117,2641,829

Employment-to-population ratio

59.259.759.759.759.8.6

Unemployed

7,5357,0976,5636,4295,981-1,554

Unemployment rate (percent)

6.15.75.35.24.9-1.2

Black or African American:

      

Civilian labor force

18,46518,70418,76318,98419,039574

Participation rate (percent)

60.561.060.961.461.4.9

Employed

16,17216,44216,66416,83516,987815

Employment-to-population ratio

53.053.654.154.554.81.8

Unemployed

2,2932,2612,0992,1492,052-241

Unemployment rate (percent)

12.412.111.211.310.8-1.6

Asian:

      

Civilian labor force

8,6428,7888,7588,7208,774132

Participation rate (percent)

64.364.163.463.463.3-1.0

Employed

8,2198,3188,2848,3338,364145

Employment-to-population ratio

61.160.760.060.660.3-.8

Unemployed

423470474388410-13

Unemployment rate (percent)

4.95.45.44.44.7-.2

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity:

      

Civilian labor force

24,84525,16425,24725,41525,655810

Participation rate (percent)

65.666.166.066.066.2.6

Employed

22,68323,12523,32723,55523,9611,278

Employment-to-population ratio

59.960.860.961.261.81.9

Unemployed

2,1622,0391,9191,8601,694-468

Unemployment rate (percent)

8.78.17.67.36.6-2.1

NOTE: Race and Hispanic ethnicity totals do not sum to overall total, 16 years and older, because data are not presented for all races and because people of Hispanic ethnicity may be of any race and are also included in the race groups. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.

Both the number of unemployed and the unemployment rate fell for all major demographic groups in 2014. In contrast to the previous year, when the decline in unemployment was concentrated among women, about half of the decline in unemployment in 2014 occurred among adult men 20 years and older. The jobless rate for adult men dropped by 1.3 percentage points, to 5.3 percent in the fourth quarter, while the rate for adult women declined by 1.0 percentage point, to 5.2 percent. Among teenagers 16 to 19 years of age, the unemployment rate fell by 3.5 points, to 17.7 percent in the fourth quarter. The unemployment rate for teenagers was 16.1 percent at the onset of the 2007 recession, climbed to a peak of 26.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, and, like the rates for adult men and women, has been trending downward over the last 5 years.

The jobless rate for Blacks dropped 1.6 percentage points, to 10.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, yet their rate persisted in the double digits for the seventh consecutive year. (See figure 2.) By comparison, the unemployment rate for Hispanics fell by 2.1 percentage points, to 6.6 percent.3 The jobless rate for Whites declined by 1.2 percentage points, reaching 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter—1.0 percentage point above their prerecessionary low of 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006. The unemployment rate for Asians was little changed, standing at 4.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Notes

1 The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is the official arbiter of the beginning and ending dates of recessions. According to the NBER, the most recent recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Turning points for recessions are quarterly in this article.

2 The data in this article are based on information collected in the Current Population Survey (CPS)—also called the household survey—a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households nationwide that the U.S. Census Bureau conducts for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Although the CPS is a monthly survey, the data analyzed in the article are seasonally adjusted quarterly averages, unless otherwise noted. All over-the-year changes are comparisons of fourth-quarter data from 2013 with fourth-quarter data from 2014, unless otherwise noted. Effective with the data for January 2014, updated population estimates were used in the household survey. Each year, the Census Bureau updates its population estimates to reflect new information and assumptions about the growth of the population during the decade. In accordance with usual practice, BLS did not revise the official household survey estimates for December 2013 and earlier months. For additional information on the population adjustments and their effect on national labor force estimates, see “Adjustments to Household Survey Population Estimates in January 2014” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2014), http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps14adj.pdf.

3 People whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. In the CPS, about 90 percent of people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity identify themselves as White.

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About the Author

Eleni Theodossiou Sherman
sherman.eleni@bls.gov

Eleni Theodossiou Sherman is an economist in the Division of Labor Force Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Janie-Lynn Kang
kang.janie-lynn@bls.gov

Janie-Lynn Kang is an economist in the Division of Labor Force Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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