Article

April 2018

Job market continued to improve in 2017 as the unemployment rate declined to a 17-year low

Most labor market measures continued to improve in 2017. The unemployment rate hit a 17-year low of 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter, and employment and the employment–population ratio rose. The labor force participation rate was little changed.

In 2017, the U.S. economy completed its eighth year of expansion following the Great Recession, and most labor market measures continued to improve as well.1 By the end of the year, the unemployment rate had hit a 17-year low.

This article highlights several important developments in the U.S. labor market in 2017 and explores how various demographic groups fared in the job market, with breakdowns by race and ethnicity, age, and gender. Additionally, we examine recent developments in employment and unemployment for veterans, the foreign born, and people with disabilities, as well as how hurricanes in the Gulf region affected the job market. The data are from the Current Population Survey (CPS).2

The employment situation improved in 2017

The number of unemployed people fell by 989,000 from a year earlier, to 6.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017.3 The unemployment rate—the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed—was down by 0.6 percentage point over the year, reaching 4.1 percent at the close of 2017. (See table 1 and figure 1.) This is the lowest unemployment rate since the fourth quarter of 2000. The unemployment rate decline in 2017 was twice as large as the 2016 decline.

Table 1. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older, by age and selected characteristics, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Characteristic20162017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017
Fourth quarterFirst quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter

Total, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

159,660159,984160,042160,716160,500840

Participation rate

62.762.962.862.962.70.0

Employed

152,099152,550153,101153,769153,9281,829

Employment–population ratio

59.860.060.160.260.10.3

Unemployed

7,5617,4336,9416,9476,572-989

Unemployment rate

4.74.64.34.34.1-0.6

Men, 20 years and older

Civilian labor force

81,95182,03781,99782,32982,429478

Participation rate

71.671.771.571.671.50.1

Employed

78,33478,50478,79679,04779,3341,000

Employment–population ratio

68.468.668.768.868.90.5

Unemployed

3,6173,5343,2013,2813,095-522

Unemployment rate

4.44.33.94.03.8-0.6

Women, 20 years and older

Civilian labor force

71,82072,00172,10372,46772,260440

Participation rate

58.358.558.458.658.30.0

Employed

68,75268,96269,19869,59469,618866

Employment–population ratio

55.856.056.156.356.20.4

Unemployed

3,0683,0392,9052,8732,642-426

Unemployment rate

4.34.24.04.03.7-0.6

Total, 16 to 19 years

Civilian labor force

5,8895,9455,9425,9205,811-78

Participation rate

35.235.535.535.334.7-0.5

Employed

5,0145,0845,1085,1284,976-38

Employment–population ratio

29.930.430.530.629.7-0.2

Unemployed

876861834792835-41

Unemployment rate

14.914.514.013.414.4-0.5

White

Civilian labor force

124,724124,833124,783125,105125,022298

Participation rate

62.862.962.862.862.7-0.1

Employed

119,405119,745120,052120,427120,4891,084

Employment–population ratio

60.160.360.460.560.40.3

Unemployed

5,3195,0884,7304,6784,534-785

Unemployment rate

4.34.13.83.73.6-0.7

Black or African American

Civilian labor force

19,84819,99320,05420,14920,154306

Participation rate

61.962.362.362.462.20.3

Employed

18,24718,40618,54418,67618,721474

Employment–population ratio

56.957.357.657.857.80.9

Unemployed

1,6001,5871,5091,4731,433-167

Unemployment rate

8.17.97.57.37.1-1.0

Asian

Civilian labor force

9,7079,6679,7879,8839,78174

Participation rate

63.263.563.664.363.20.0

Employed

9,4089,3289,4499,5119,50395

Employment–population ratio

61.261.361.461.961.40.2

Unemployed

299339338372279-20

Unemployment rate

3.13.53.53.82.8-0.3

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

Civilian labor force

27,00627,22727,24927,47427,402396

Participation rate

65.766.466.166.265.6-0.1

Employed

25,44925,73025,87226,07026,076627

Employment–population ratio

61.962.862.762.862.50.6

Unemployed

1,5571,4971,3771,4041,326-231

Unemployment rate

5.85.55.15.14.8-1.0

Note: Estimates for the above race groups (White, Black or African American, and Asian) do not sum to totals because data are not presented for all races. People whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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

The number of employed people increased by 1.8 million over the year, to 153.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. This growth was smaller than the over-the-year increase of 2.5 million in 2016. As a result of the recent growth, the employment–population ratio continued to rise, reaching 60.1 percent by the fourth quarter of 2017. (See table 1 and figure 2.) The employment–population ratio has gradually trended up since 2014. In the third quarter of 2017, it reached its highest point (60.2 percent) since the recession ended. However, it remains well below levels that predated the Great Recession.

In 2017, the labor force participation rate, at 62.7 percent, was unchanged from a year earlier. The participation rate has remained around this level for the past 4 years. (See table 1 and figure 1.) In the third quarter of 2007—just before the recession—the participation rate was 65.9 percent.

Employment grew and unemployment fell for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics; labor force participation changed little for all groups

Similar to employment growth in the overall labor market, employment growth among Whites raised the employment–population ratio for this group to 60.4 percent by the fourth quarter of 2017. A decline in the ranks of the unemployed also shrank the unemployment rate for Whites by 0.7 percentage point over the year, to 3.6 percent, a 17-year low. After declining from 2009 to 2014, the labor force participation rate for Whites changed little over the last 3 years; it was 62.7 percent at the end of 2017. (See table 1 and figure 3.)

Continuing the trend of strong employment gains since 2014, the employment–population ratio for Blacks rose by 0.9 percentage point over the year. The ratio in the fourth quarter 2017—57.8 percent—was the highest since the second quarter of 2008. The unemployment rate for Blacks declined by 1.0 percentage point over the year, to 7.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, which marks a series low (comparable data became available in 1972). Despite this progress, the unemployment rate for Blacks remained about twice that of Whites.4 After trending up over the previous 3 years, the labor force participation rate for Blacks changed little in 2017, ending the year at 62.2 percent.

For Asians, most labor market indicators in 2017 were little different from those in 2016. The employment–population ratio, at 61.4 percent in the fourth quarter, changed little in 2017 after trending up in 2016. At 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the unemployment rate for Asians was little different from a year earlier. The unemployment rate for this group returned to its prerecession low in 2017.5 The labor force participation rate for Asians, at 63.2 percent, was unchanged from a year earlier.

People of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity also experienced employment growth and declining unemployment in 2017.6 Beginning in 2011, the employment–population ratio for Hispanics gradually trended up through the end of 2015. However, at 62.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, this ratio changed little over the past 2 years. The unemployment rate for this group, at 4.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, declined to a series low (comparable data became available in 1973). The labor force participation rate for Hispanics was relatively unchanged, at 65.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, and has shown no clear trend since 2013.

Employment rose and unemployment declined for nearly all age groups in 2017, and labor force participation rates generally showed little change

Among people of prime working age—defined as 25 to 54 years old—employment increased in 2017, and their employment–population ratio continued to climb, reaching 79.0 percent in the fourth quarter. Both prime-working-age women and prime-­­­­­­working-age men enjoyed employment gains during the year. The employment–population ratio for prime-working-age women increased by 0.9 percentage point over the year, to 72.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the same level as when the recession began in the fourth quarter of 2007. The ratio for prime-working-age men, at 85.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, was up by 0.8 percentage point over the year but was still 1.3 percentage points lower than it was at the dawn of the recession. (See table 2.)

Table 2. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years and older, by age and gender, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Characteristic20162017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017
Fourth quarterFirst quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter

Total, 25 to 54 years

Civilian labor force

102,571102,501102,547102,756102,891320

Participation rate

81.481.681.681.781.80.4

Employed

98,41398,38698,65098,90199,390977

Employment–population ratio

78.178.478.578.679.00.9

Unemployed

4,1574,1153,8973,8543,501-656

Unemployment rate

4.14.03.83.83.4-0.7

Men, 25 to 54 years

Civilian labor force

54,84354,80754,68854,78154,953110

Participation rate

88.588.788.588.588.70.2

Employed

52,66952,64652,71552,75453,158489

Employment–population ratio

85.085.285.385.285.80.8

Unemployed

2,1742,1611,9732,0281,795-379

Unemployment rate

4.03.93.63.73.3-0.7

Women, 25 to 54 years

Civilian labor force

47,72747,69447,85947,97547,938211

Participation rate

74.674.875.075.175.00.4

Employed

45,74445,74045,93646,14846,232488

Employment–population ratio

71.571.772.072.372.40.9

Unemployed

1,9831,9551,9241,8271,706-277

Unemployment rate

4.24.14.03.83.6-0.6

Total, 55 years and older

Civilian labor force

35,97536,17436,34836,66936,706731

Participation rate

39.940.040.040.139.90.0

Employed

34,68134,93935,20535,50235,546865

Employment–population ratio

38.438.638.738.838.60.2

Unemployed

1,2941,2341,1431,1671,159-135

Unemployment rate

3.63.43.13.23.2-0.4

Men, 55 years and older

Civilian labor force

19,17719,23919,37619,54719,611434

Participation rate

46.046.046.046.246.10.1

Employed

18,47718,59918,78418,94218,957480

Employment–population ratio

44.344.544.644.844.50.2

Unemployed

701639591605655-46

Unemployment rate

3.73.33.13.13.3-0.4

Women, 55 years and older

Civilian labor force

16,79716,92816,98517,11517,097300

Participation rate

34.634.834.734.834.60.0

Employed

16,20416,34016,42016,56016,590386

Employment–population ratio

33.433.633.633.733.50.1

Unemployed

593588565555508-85

Unemployment rate

3.53.53.33.23.0-0.5

Total, 16 to 24 years

Civilian labor force

21,14521,31221,15421,25620,922-223

Participation rate

55.155.755.455.855.0-0.1

Employed

19,03219,25219,22919,33419,009-23

Employment–population ratio

49.650.450.450.749.90.3

Unemployed

2,1132,0611,9241,9221,913-200

Unemployment rate

10.09.79.19.09.1-0.9

Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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

The unemployment rate for people of prime working age continued to decline in 2017, reaching 3.4 percent at the end of the year. Unemployment rates were down for both prime-working-age men and prime-working-age women over the year. At the close of 2017, the unemployment rate for people in this age group was about in line with its prerecession low (3.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006).

In 2017, labor force participation among people of prime working age edged up for women but not for men. After a prolonged upward trend, which saw the labor force participation rate for women peak at 77.1 percent in the third quarter of 1997, the rate for women began a modest decline, hitting a recent low of 73.4 percent in the third quarter of 2015. However, the labor force participation rate for women in this age group reached 75.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. The labor force participation rate for men in this age group had generally trended down for the past five decades, but at 88.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, has shown no clear trend in the past 2 years.

Among people age 55 and older, the employment–population ratio increased steadily for both men and women from the mid-1990s through the beginning of the Great Recession. Since the end of the recession, however, this metric took different trajectories for men and women. After declining in 2009, the employment–population ratio for older men resumed its upward trend, albeit at a slower pace than before the recession. This ratio for older men, at 44.5 percent at the close of 2017, was 1.9 percentage points higher than at the close of 2009. The employment–population ratio for older women showed relatively little movement following the recession, after gaining a percentage point or more each year during most of the early 2000s. This ratio for older women settled at 33.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, which was only 1.0 percentage point higher than the ratio in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older declined to 3.2 percent in 2017, following little change in the previous year. The unemployment rate for men edged down by 0.4 percentage point over the year, to 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. The unemployment rate for women, at 3.0 percent, was down by 0.5 percentage point from the previous year. By the end of 2017, the unemployment rate for older men was still 0.4 percentage point above its prerecession low of 2.9 percent in the third quarter of 2006. The rate for older women was about in line with its prerecession low of 2.9 percent in the third quarter of 2007.

As shown in the labor force participation rate table below, the rate for people 55 years and older was unchanged over the year, at 39.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017:

AgeFourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change
Total, 16 years and older62.762.70.0
   16 to 24 years55.155.0-0.1
     16 to 19 years35.234.7-0.5
     20 to 24 years70.671.00.4
   25 to 54 years81.481.80.4
     25 to 34 years81.782.10.4
     35 to 44 years82.482.70.3
     45 to 54 years80.380.50.2
   55 years and older39.939.90.0
     55 to 64 years64.264.70.5
     65 years and older19.119.20.1

In contrast to the rate for people of prime working age, the labor force participation rate for people 55 and older rose steadily from the mid-1990s until after the Great Recession. For the last 4 years, however, the rate has hovered around 40 percent. This general trend holds for both men and women in this age group, although older women are less likely to participate in the labor force than older men (34.6 percent compared with 46.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017).7

Within this age group, labor force participation trends have differed between those ages 55 to 64 and those age 65 and older. For those ages 55 to 64, labor force participation increased sharply from the mid-1980s through the end of the recession, hitting a high of 65.4 percent in the second quarter of 2009. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) During the expansion, this rate has hovered in a narrow range of 63.6 percent to 65.4 percent and was 64.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. For people age 65 and older, labor force participation began to increase sharply in the late 1990s and continued to rise through 2017. At 19.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the participation rate for people age 65 and older was 2.2 percentage points higher than it was at the end of the recession.

Among youth ages 16 to 24, unemployment was down in 2017. The unemployment rate for youth was 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter, after reaching a 17-year low in the third quarter of the year (9.0 percent). Within this age group, the unemployment rate for teens was considerably higher than that for young adults ages 20 to 24 (14.4 percent compared with 7.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017). The employment–population ratio of 16-to-24-year-olds was little changed over the year. However, at 49.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the ratio was 5.1 percentage points higher than the series low of 44.8 percent in the first quarter of 2010. Improvements in employment and unemployment among youth accrued to both young men and young women.

Labor force participation among youth had dropped through the 1990s and 2000s, with their participation rate settling around 55 percent in 2010; in the fourth quarter of 2017, the rate was 55.0 percent. While this trend in labor force participation holds true for both teenagers and young adults, young adults are about twice as likely to participate in the labor force as teenagers. In the fourth quarter of 2017, 34.7 percent of teenagers and 71.0 percent of young adults participated in the labor force.

Unemployment rates were down for all levels of education

Among people age 25 and older, unemployment rates declined in 2017 for nearly every level of education. All rates were at or near their prerecession lows. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma was down by 1.8 percentage points over the year, to 5.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, which marks a series low (comparable data became available in 1992). The jobless rate for high school graduates fell by 0.9 percentage point over the year, to 4.3 percent at the close of 2017, and the rate for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, at 2.1 percent, declined by 0.4 percentage point from a year earlier. The unemployment rate for people with some college was little changed over the year, at 3.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. (See table 3 and figure 4.)

Table 3. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population 25 years and older, by educational attainment, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Characteristic20162017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017
Fourth quarterFirst quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter

Less than a high school diploma

Civilian labor force

10,55610,33110,25210,56110,214-342

Participation rate

45.045.645.246.545.40.4

Employed

9,7479,5919,5939,8639,615-132

Employment–population ratio

41.642.442.343.442.71.1

Unemployed

809740659698599-210

Unemployment rate

7.77.26.46.65.9-1.8

High school graduate, no college

Civilian labor force

35,82535,82435,99035,82235,83813

Participation rate

57.857.957.857.657.4-0.4

Employed

33,98034,02634,32334,17634,312332

Employment–population ratio

54.855.055.154.955.00.2

Unemployed

1,8461,7981,6671,6461,526-320

Unemployment rate

5.25.04.64.64.3-0.9

Some college or associate’s degree

Civilian labor force

38,05937,89537,61237,40237,874-185

Participation rate

66.165.965.765.666.10.0

Employed

36,59736,44136,17236,01936,500-97

Employment–population ratio

63.663.463.263.263.70.1

Unemployed

1,4621,4541,4401,3831,374-88

Unemployment rate

3.83.83.83.73.6-0.2

Bachelor’s degree and higher

Civilian labor force

54,07854,64055,05555,62055,6551,577

Participation rate

73.973.874.073.973.6-0.3

Employed

52,74553,30453,75354,32854,4921,747

Employment–population ratio

72.172.072.272.272.10.0

Unemployed

1,3331,3361,3021,2921,162-171

Unemployment rate

2.52.42.42.32.1-0.4

Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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

Following a downward trend beginning in the 1990s, participation rates for high school graduates, people with some college, and those with college degrees all showed little or no net change from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2017. The rate for those with less than a high school diploma, however, did not show the same trend. Their participation rate had risen through much of the 1990s through the mid-2000s. Participation among those with less than a high school diploma gradually declined in the aftermath of the recession, hitting a recent low in 2014. Since then, their participation rate has generally trended up, rising sporadically, to 45.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. This growth likely reflects the increase in participation among older people and the older age profile of people with less than a high school diploma. Among people with less than a high school diploma, 3 in 10 were age 65 or older in 2017, compared with just over 2 in 10 of those with all other levels of education.

The labor market also improved for veterans, the foreign born, and people with disabilities

Unemployment rates declined for both veterans and nonveterans. Of the 19.8 million veterans in the civilian noninstitutional population in the fourth quarter of 2017, the largest share—about 2 in 5—served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era (7.9 million). Another 4.1 million served during Gulf War era II, 3.1 million during Gulf War era I, and 4.6 million served on active duty outside these designated periods.8

The unemployment rate for veterans declined to 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, and the rate for their nonveteran counterparts declined to 3.8 percent. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) Among all veterans, the unemployment rate for men declined to 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, while the rate for women declined to 3.1 percent. For Gulf War–era II veterans, the unemployment rate for men declined to 3.8 percent, but the rate for women, at 4.4 percent, changed little from the prior year. (See table 4.)

Table 4. Employment status of people 18 years and older, by veteran status, period of service, and gender, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Employment status, veteran status, and period of serviceTotalMenWomen
Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017

Veterans, 18 years and older

Civilian labor force

10,5359,801-7349,2648,644-6201,2721,157-115

Participation rate

50.749.6-1.149.448.4-1.062.960.4-2.5

Employed

10,0749,458-6168,8708,338-5321,2041,121-83

Employment–population ratio

48.547.8-0.747.346.7-0.659.658.5-1.1

Unemployed

461343-118393306-876836-32

Unemployment rate

4.43.5-0.94.23.5-0.75.33.1-2.2

Gulf War–era II veterans

Civilian labor force

3,3123,358462,7932,86572519493-26

Participation rate

82.881.1-1.784.483.4-1.075.069.5-5.5

Employed

3,1263,2281022,6402,757117487471-16

Employment–population ratio

78.177.9-0.279.880.30.570.366.4-3.9

Unemployed

186130-56153108-453322-11

Unemployment rate

5.63.9-1.75.53.8-1.76.34.4-1.9

Gulf War–era I veterans

Civilian labor force

2,6412,430-2112,2582,086-172383344-39

Participation rate

79.477.7-1.780.479.1-1.373.970.6-3.3

Employed

2,5552,363-1922,1872,028-159368335-33

Employment–population ratio

76.875.6-1.277.876.9-0.970.968.8-2.1

Unemployed

8667-197158-13169-7

Unemployment rate

3.32.7-0.63.12.8-0.34.12.5-1.6

World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam-era veterans

Civilian labor force

1,9691,723-2461,8981,657-2417166-5

Participation rate

23.621.8-1.823.621.8-1.823.924.20.3

Employed

1,8871,662-2251,8211,596-22565661

Employment–population ratio

22.621.1-1.522.620.9-1.721.924.22.3

Unemployed

8361-227761-1660-6

Unemployment rate

4.23.6-0.64.03.7-0.38.50.0-8.5

Veterans of other service periods

Civilian labor force

2,6122,290-3222,3142,036-278298254-44

Participation rate

51.149.7-1.450.348.9-1.458.357.1-1.2

Employed

2,5062,205-3012,2221,957-265284248-36

Employment–population ratio

49.047.9-1.148.347.0-1.355.755.70.0

Unemployed

10685-219379-14146-8

Unemployment rate

4.13.7-0.44.03.9-0.14.62.3-2.3

Nonveterans, 18 years and older

Civilian labor force

146,906148,3151,40974,50475,36986572,40272,945543

Participation rate

65.465.40.074.774.6-0.157.958.00.1

Employed

140,462142,7102,24871,09172,4161,32569,37170,293922

Employment–population ratio

62.562.90.471.371.60.355.555.90.4

Unemployed

6,4445,605-8393,4132,953-4603,0312,652-379

Unemployment rate

4.43.8-0.64.63.9-0.74.23.6-0.6

Note: Veterans served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were not on active duty at the time of the survey. Nonveterans never served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans could have served anywhere in the world during these periods of service: Gulf War era II (September 2001–present), Gulf War era I (August 1990–August 2001), Vietnam era (August 1964–April 1975), Korean War (July 1950–January 1955), World War II (December 1941–December 1946), and other service periods (all other time periods). Veterans are only counted in one period of service, their most recent wartime period. Veterans who served in both a wartime period and any other service period are classified in the wartime period. Effective with data for November 2017, estimates for veterans incorporate population controls derived from an updated Department of Veterans Affairs population model. In accordance with usual practice, BLS did not revise estimates for previous years.

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

In the fourth quarter of 2017, 49.6 percent of veterans participated in the labor force, down by 1.1 percentage points from a year earlier. For nonveterans, 65.4 percent participated in the labor force in 2017. The percentage for nonveterans was unchanged from the previous year. The difference in participation rates for veterans and nonveterans reflects the age profile of veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era. Veterans from these service periods are now all over age 60, and labor force participation tends to be lower for older people than for those of prime working age. In fact, the decline in the participation rate for all veterans was driven by a 1.8-percentage-point decline over the year in the participation rate for those who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era. The rate for these veterans fell to 21.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. In contrast, the participation rate for Gulf War-era II veterans—who tend to be younger—was 81.1 percent at the end of 2017, little different from a year earlier.

Unemployment rates for both foreign- and native-born workers declined. At the end of 2017, the foreign born accounted for 17.0 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force age 16 and older.9 The unemployment rates for both foreign- and native-born individuals each declined by 0.6 percentage point over the year, to 3.7 percent and 4.0 percent, respectively, in the fourth quarter. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) Foreign-born people continued to have a slightly higher labor force participation rate than native-born people in 2017. The labor force participation rate for the foreign born and native born, at 65.5 percent and 62.1 percent, respectively, in the fourth quarter of 2017, showed little or no change from the prior year. (See table 5.)

Table 5. Employment status of the foreign- and native-born populations by gender, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Employment status and nativityTotalMenWomen
Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017

Foreign born, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

27,16927,30413515,62915,6613211,53911,643104

Participation rate

65.065.50.577.377.90.653.553.90.4

Employed

26,01426,29628215,02315,16414110,99111,131140

Employment–population ratio

62.363.10.874.375.51.251.051.60.6

Unemployed

1,1551,008-147606497-109549512-37

Unemployment rate

4.33.7-0.63.93.2-0.74.84.4-0.4

Native born, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

132,232132,96673469,06569,34327863,16763,624457

Participation rate

62.162.10.067.266.9-0.357.457.50.1

Employed

126,159127,7061,54765,67666,40572960,48361,300817

Employment–population ratio

59.359.60.363.964.10.255.055.40.4

Unemployed

6,0735,260-8133,3892,937-4522,6842,323-361

Unemployment rate

4.64.0-0.64.94.2-0.74.23.7-0.5

Note: The foreign born are those residing in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth. That is, they were born outside the United States or one of its outlying areas, such as Puerto Rico or Guam, to parents who were not U.S. citizens. This group includes legally admitted immigrants, refugees, students, temporary workers, and undocumented immigrants. The survey data do not separately identify the number of people in these categories. The native born are people who were born in the United States or one of its outlying areas, such as Puerto Rico or Guam, or who were born abroad of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen.

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

Unemployment rates declined for both people with and people without disabilities. Although the job market remains challenging for people with disabilities, labor market indicators for this group improved for the second consecutive year. The labor force participation rate for people with disabilities increased by 0.9 percentage point over the year, to 20.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, in contrast to participation trends for most other groups in 2017. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) The employment–population ratio for this group also increased, by 1.1 percentage points over the year, to 19.2 percent. Despite this improvement in their employment–population ratio, people with disabilities were still less than one-third as likely to be employed as people with no disabilities. Although the unemployment rate for people with disabilities decreased by 1.4 percentage points over the year, to 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the rate was still more than twice as high as the rate for people without disabilities. (See table 6.)

Table 6. Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population, by gender, age, and disability status, quarterly averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Employment status, gender, and agePeople with a disabilityPeople with no disability
Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017

Total, 16 years and older

Civilian labor force

6,0436,264221153,358154,006648

Participation rate

20.020.90.968.468.2-0.2

Employed

5,4625,753291146,711148,2481,537

Employment–population ratio

18.119.21.165.465.60.2

Unemployed

581511-706,6475,758-889

Unemployment rate

9.68.2-1.44.33.7-0.6

Men, 16 to 64 years

Civilian labor force

2,6452,77112676,92476,915-9

Participation rate

34.236.82.682.282.1-0.1

Employed

2,3792,52214373,39573,915520

Employment–population ratio

30.833.52.778.578.90.4

Unemployed

266249-173,5283,001-527

Unemployment rate

10.09.0-1.04.63.9-0.7

Women, 16 to 64 years

Civilian labor force

2,3082,3322468,20868,630422

Participation rate

28.630.11.570.770.90.2

Employed

2,0652,1256065,37466,135761

Employment–population ratio

25.627.41.867.768.40.7

Unemployed

244206-382,8342,495-339

Unemployment rate

10.58.8-1.74.23.6-0.6

Total, 65 years and over

Civilian labor force

1,0891,162738,2268,461235

Participation rate

7.67.90.324.023.9-0.1

Employed

1,0181,106887,9418,198257

Employment–population ratio

7.17.50.423.223.1-0.1

Unemployed

7255-17285263-22

Unemployment rate

6.64.8-1.83.53.1-0.4

Note: A person with a disability has at least one of the following conditions: deafness or serious difficulty hearing; blindness or serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses; serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition; serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs; difficulty dressing or bathing; or difficulty doing errands alone, such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping, because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition. Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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

While the unemployment rate for those with no disabilities improved, both their labor force participation rate and employment–population ratio remained relatively unchanged over the year. The unemployment rate for people without disabilities decreased by 0.6 percentage point over the year, to 3.7 percent. Their labor force participation rate was 68.2 percent, and their employment–population ratio was 65.6 percent.

Unemployment declined to a 17-year low in 2017

During the period leading up to the Great Recession, the unemployment rate was at a low of 4.5 percent for the three consecutive quarters that ended with the second quarter of 2007. Unemployment then rose sharply with the onset of the recession, reaching a high of 9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, before beginning a steady descent. At the end of 2017, 8 years into the expansion, the unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent—a level last experienced shortly before the 2001 recession.

Changes in the unemployment rate are often analyzed with the use of data showing labor force status flows, which show the current employment status of people who were unemployed in the previous month. Each month, millions of people move between labor force statuses (for example, from unemployed to employed). The labor force status flows data measure these dynamic movements.10 In 2017, the percentage of unemployed people who remained unemployed from month to month continued its downward trend and was below 50 percent for much of the year. (These data are seasonally adjusted 3-month moving averages.) The percentage of unemployed people who found jobs in 2017 continued to inch up, reaching 27 percent for the first time since October 2007. Recently, unemployed people have been more likely to find a job than they were to leave the labor force, in contrast to earlier years of the expansion. (See figure 5.)

From job losers to first-time job hunters, the ranks of the unemployed fell for all groups

In the CPS, unemployed people are grouped according to what they were doing before they began looking for work. People are unemployed because they either (1) lost their job or completed a temporary job, (2) left their job, (3) reentered the labor force, or (4) entered the labor force for the first time. At the end of 2017, unemployment totaled 6.6 million, and all four categories declined over the year. (See table 7 and figure 6.)

Table 7. Unemployed people, by reason and duration of unemployment, quarterly averages, seasonally adjusted, 2016–17 (levels in thousands)
Reason and durationFourth quarter 20162017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017
First quarterSecond quarterThird quarterFourth quarter

Reason for unemployment

Job losers and people who completed temporary jobs

3,6333,6383,4393,3903,206-427

On temporary layoff

964988890984909-55

Not on temporary layoff

2,6692,6502,5492,4062,297-372

Permanent job losers

1,9011,9431,7721,7251,621-280

People who completed temporary jobs

768708778682676-92

Job leavers

918822800762729-189

Reentrants

2,2612,1372,0662,0972,010-251

New entrants

773779682671635-138

Percent distribution

Job losers and people who completed temporary jobs

47.949.349.249.048.70.8

On temporary layoff

12.713.412.714.213.81.1

Not on temporary layoff

35.235.936.534.834.9-0.3

Job leavers

12.111.111.411.011.1-1.0

Reentrants

29.829.029.630.330.60.8

New entrants

10.210.69.89.79.6-0.6

Duration of unemployment

Less than 5 weeks

2,3892,4402,2412,1932,206-183

5 to 14 weeks

2,1882,0992,0131,9601,944-244

15 weeks or longer

3,0402,8642,7202,7592,470-570

15 to 26 weeks

1,1361,1141,0491,017886-250

27 weeks or longer

1,9041,7511,6711,7421,584-320

Average (mean) duration in weeks

26.125.224.725.324.9-1.2

Median duration, in weeks

10.410.310.210.39.5-0.9

Percent distribution

Less than 5 weeks

31.433.032.131.733.31.9

5 to 14 weeks

28.728.428.928.429.40.7

15 weeks or longer

39.938.739.039.937.3-2.6

15 to 26 weeks

14.915.015.014.713.4-1.5

27 weeks or longer

25.023.624.025.223.9-1.1

Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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

The number of unemployed people who lost their job declined by 427,000 over the year, to 3.2 million. This group accounted for nearly one-half of the unemployed. The next largest group among unemployed people were reentrants—people who had been in the labor force previously, had spent time out of the labor force, and were actively seeking work once again. People who reentered the labor force accounted for about 31 percent of the unemployed in 2017. The number of reentrants, at 2.0 million, declined by 251,000 over the year. There were 729,000 job leavers (people who voluntarily left their job) by the end of the year—189,000 fewer than a year earlier. Lastly, the number of new entrants (unemployed people looking for a job for the first time) declined by 138,000 from a year earlier, to 635,000.

Long-term unemployment remained elevated

The number of people who were long-term unemployed (those who had been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer) declined in the last quarter of 2017, yet their proportion among the unemployed remained high by historical standards.11 Long-term unemployment, at about 1.6 million people in the fourth quarter of 2017, was 320,000 less than a year earlier. However, the proportion of unemployed people who were jobless for 27 weeks or longer was little changed, at 23.9 percent. This proportion, although much lower than the historical high of 45.1 percent in the second quarter of 2010, was still notably higher than the prerecession level of 17.8 percent in the third quarter of 2007. This indicates that some people are still having great difficulty finding a job despite the prolonged expansion. In the fourth quarter of 2017, about 16 percent of unemployed people were searching for work for a year or more and about 7 percent were searching for more than 99 weeks, or almost 2 years. Both measures remain elevated 8 years after the recession ended. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) (See table 7 and figure 7.)

Unemployment rates were down regardless of occupation

Jobless rates declined in all five major occupational categories in 2017. (These data are annual averages; the unemployed are classified by occupation according to their last job, which may or may not be similar to the job they are currently looking for.) The rate continued to be lowest in management, professional, and related occupations, declining by 0.3 percentage point from 2016, to 2.2 percent in 2017. The rate for sales and office occupations was down by 0.5 percentage point, to 4.1 percent. Production, transportation, and material moving occupations and service occupations both had an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent; rates in these occupations declined by 0.7 percentage point and 0.4 percentage point, respectively, from the previous year. The rate for natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations declined by 0.4 percentage point, to 6.0 percent, in 2017. (See table 8.)

Table 8. Unemployment rates, by occupational group, annual averages, 2016–17
Occupational groupTotalMenWomen
20162017Percentage-point change, 2016–1720162017Percentage-point change, 2016–1720162017Percentage-point change, 2016–17

Management, professional, and related

2.52.2-0.32.42.1-0.32.62.3-0.3

Management, business, and financial operations

2.52.2-0.32.32.0-0.32.72.4-0.3

Professional and related

2.52.3-0.22.52.3-0.22.52.3-0.2

Service

5.85.4-0.45.95.4-0.55.75.4-0.3

Health care support

4.54.50.04.14.0-0.14.64.60.0

Protective service

3.73.3-0.43.22.4-0.85.46.41.0

Food preparation and serving related

6.86.4-0.47.06.9-0.16.76.1-0.6

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance

6.96.2-0.77.16.5-0.66.65.7-0.9

Personal care and service

5.14.8-0.34.84.6-0.25.24.9-0.3

Sales and office

4.64.1-0.54.33.7-0.64.84.4-0.4

Sales and related

4.84.2-0.63.82.9-0.95.85.6-0.2

Office and administrative support

4.54.0-0.55.25.0-0.24.23.6-0.6

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance

6.46.0-0.46.15.7-0.411.410.9-0.5

Farming, fishing, and forestry

10.48.7-1.78.27.0-1.217.213.7-3.5

Construction and extraction

7.27.1-0.17.16.9-0.29.912.02.1

Installation, maintenance, and repair

4.13.5-0.64.13.4-0.74.35.00.7

Production, transportation, and material moving

6.15.4-0.75.75.1-0.67.66.3-1.3

Production

5.74.9-0.85.14.6-0.57.25.5-1.7

Transportation and material moving

6.55.8-0.76.25.4-0.88.07.5-0.5

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

Employment growth in 2017

Management, professional, and related occupations accounted for most of the employment growth

In 2017, there were 1.3 percent more employed people than in the previous year, following a 1.7-percent increase in 2016. (These data are annual averages.) Employment expanded in two of the five major occupation groups. Employment in management, professional, and related occupations rose by 1.5 million, to 60.9 million, from 2016 to 2017; employment in this occupation grew by 2.5 percent in 2017, the same as in 2016. Natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations also experienced employment gains in 2017, increasing by 289,000 to 14.2 million; employment in this occupation grew by 2.1 percent over the year after changing little in 2016. Employment in service occupations; sales and office occupations; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations changed little in 2017. (See table 9.)

Table 9. Employment, by occupational group and gender, annual averages, 2016–17 (in thousands)
Occupational groupTotalMenWomen
20162017Change, 2016–1720162017Change, 2016–1720162017Change, 2016–17

Total, 16 years and over

151,436153,3371,90180,56881,40283470,86871,9361,068

Management, professional, and related

59,43860,9011,46328,84629,48864230,59331,413820

Management, business, and financial operations

24,94125,37943814,01914,20718810,92211,171249

Professional and related

34,49835,5221,02414,82715,28145419,67120,241570

Service

26,81126,751-6011,62511,621-415,18615,130-56

Health care support

3,5543,506-48438451133,1163,055-61

Protective service

3,1173,113-42,4232,418-56946940

Food preparation and serving related

8,5428,305-2373,9693,840-1294,5734,465-108

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance

5,8045,888843,4783,491132,3262,39771

Personal care and service

5,7955,9391441,3181,4211034,4774,51841

Sales and office

33,53933,5662713,02312,973-5020,51620,59377

Sales and related

15,84815,815-338,0888,045-437,7617,7709

Office and administrative support

17,69117,751604,9364,929-712,75512,82368

Natural resources, construction, and maintenance

13,90414,19328913,24713,47322665772063

Farming, fishing, and forestry

1,0961,184888529075524427834

Construction and extraction

7,9298,0311027,6937,788952362437

Installation, maintenance, and repair

4,8794,977984,7034,7787517720023

Production, transportation, and material moving

17,74317,92718413,82613,846203,9164,080164

Production

8,4598,482236,0736,031-422,3852,45065

Transportation and material moving

9,2849,4451617,7537,815621,5311,63099

Note: Updated population controls are introduced annually with the release of January data.

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

Earnings growth continued

Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers were up 3.4 percent from 2016 to $860 in 2017.12 During the same period, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers rose by 2.1 percent. (These data are annual averages.) The earnings comparisons here are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences, such as job skills and responsibilities, work experience, and specialization. (See table 10.)

Table 10. Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by selected characteristics, annual averages, 2016–17
CharacteristicCurrent dollars
20162017Percent change, 2016–17

Total, 16 years and older

$832$8603.4

CPI-U (1982–84 = 100)

240.01245.122.1

Men

$915$9412.8

Women

7497702.8

White

8628903.2

Men

9429713.1

Women

7667953.8

Black or African American

6786820.6

Men

718710-1.1

Women

6416572.5

Asian

1,0211,0432.2

Men

1,1511,2074.9

Women

9029030.1

Hispanic or Latino ethnicity

6246555.0

Men

6636904.1

Women

5866032.9

Total, 25 years and older

8859072.5

Less than a high school diploma

5045203.2

High school graduate, no college

6927122.9

Some college or associate’s degree

7797982.4

Bachelor’s degree or higher

1,2591,2791.6

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey and Consumer Price Index.

Median weekly earnings for men reached $941, and women’s earnings rose to $770. Although earnings grew at the same rate (2.8 percent) for men and women in 2017, women earned 81.8 percent as much as men. This ratio has been in the range of 81 to 83 percent since 2010. (See figure 8.)

Among full-time wage and salary workers in the major race and ethnicity groups, median weekly earnings continued to be higher for Asians ($1,043) and Whites ($890) than for Blacks ($682) and Hispanics ($655). Over the year, Hispanics had a 5.0-percent increase in median weekly earnings. Earnings for Whites grew by 3.2 percent, while Asians’ earnings increased by 2.2 percent. Blacks experienced the smallest over-the-year increase in earnings at 0.6 percent.

Among workers age 25 and older, those with at least a bachelor’s degree continued to have the highest median weekly earnings at $1,279 (up by 1.6 percent) in 2017. Workers with some college or an associate’s degree had weekly earnings of $798 (an increase of 2.4 percent), while those with only a high school diploma had earnings of $712 (a 2.9-percent increase). Earnings remained the lowest for workers with less than a high school diploma at $520 (up by 3.2 percent).

Other measures of slack in the labor market improved in 2017

The number of involuntary part-time workers decreased

People who worked part time for economic reasons, often referred to as involuntary part-time workers, have been of particular interest in the aftermath of the recession. The count of involuntary part-time workers—that is, people who worked 1 to 34 hours a week for an economic reason—includes both people who usually work full time and people who usually work part time. The number of involuntary part-time workers fell over the year to 4.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. This measure hit a high of 9.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. Involuntary part-time workers accounted for 3.2 percent of total employment in 2017. In the third quarter of 2007, just before the onset of the Great Recession, there were 4.5 million involuntary part-time workers, who accounted for 3.1 percent of total employment. (See figure 9.)

Involuntary part-time workers were at work less than 35 hours mainly because of slack work or business conditions or because they could only find part-time work.13 The number of involuntary part-time workers in both of these categories decreased in 2017. As a share of total employment, both of these categories of involuntary part-time work have decreased in recent years.

The number of people who were not in the labor force but wanted a job decreased

People who are not in the labor force are neither working nor looking for work.14 In the fourth quarter of 2017, 95.7 million people were not in the labor force, little changed from a year earlier. (See table 11.) (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) Of those who were not in the labor force, about 2 in 5 were 65 years and older, similar to the proportion before the recession.

Table 11. Number of people not in the labor force, fourth quarter averages, not seasonally adjusted, 2013–17 (in thousands)
CategoryFourth quarter 2013Fourth quarter 2014Fourth quarter 2015Fourth quarter 2016Fourth quarter 2017Change, fourth quarter 2016 to fourth quarter 2017

Total not in the labor force

91,77492,69894,44295,13495,671537

People who do not currently want a job(1)

86,09086,51188,86489,60590,7091,104

People who currently want a job

5,6846,1875,5785,5294,962-567

Marginally attached to the labor force(2)

2,2692,1871,8221,7721,546-226

Discouraged workers(3)

831736641502489-13

Other people marginally attached to the labor force(4)

1,4381,4511,1811,2711,057-214
Notes:

(1) Includes some people who are not asked if they want a job.

(2) Data refer to people who want a job, have searched for work during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the reference week, but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks.

(3) Includes those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for reasons such as thinks no work is available, could not find work, lacks schooling or training, employer thinks too young or old, and other types of discrimination.

(4) Includes those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for such reasons as school or family responsibilities, ill health, and transportation problems, as well as a number for whom the reason for nonparticipation was not determined.

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

People who are not in the labor force are asked if they currently want a job. By the end of 2017, 5.0 million of those not in the labor force indicated that they wanted a job even though they were not currently looking for one. Over the year, this metric declined by 567,000. People who wanted a job accounted for 5.2 percent of those not in the labor force in the fourth quarter of 2017. This percentage was a series low—the smallest since comparable data became available in 1994.  

Among the 5.0 million people who wanted a job in the fourth quarter of 2017, 1.5 million were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months but not in the past 4 weeks. This group is referred to as marginally attached to the labor force. Because these individuals did not actively search for work in the past 4 weeks, they were not classified as unemployed. The number of individuals marginally attached to the labor force declined by 226,000 over the year, after little change in 2016. People marginally attached to the labor force accounted for a similar share of those not in the labor force in the fourth quarter of 2017 as they did leading up to the recession.

Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, are people not currently looking for work specifically because they are discouraged over their job prospects. In the last quarter of 2017, the number of discouraged workers (489,000) was essentially unchanged from a year earlier.

The remaining 1.1 million people marginally attached to the labor force in the fourth quarter of 2017 had not searched for work for reasons other than discouragement, such as school attendance, family responsibilities, and health-related issues. The number of these individuals declined by 214,000 over the year.

Most alternative measures of labor underutilization have returned to their prerecession lows

The alternative measures of labor underutilization portray a broad range of labor market challenges faced by today’s workers, from various aspects of unemployment to insufficient hours of work for the employed.15 U-1 and U-2 are defined more narrowly than the official unemployment rate (which is included in this range as U-3) and include only subsets of unemployed people who are counted in the overall unemployment rate. U-4 through U-6 are defined more broadly than the official unemployment rate and include some people who are either employed or not in the labor force in addition to all of those who are unemployed. (See figure 10.)

In the fourth quarter of 2017, all alternative measures U-1 through U-6 declined. By the end of the year, all measures were back to, or very near, their prerecession lows.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma swelled the number of people absent from work because of bad weather in September

Natural disasters and weather-related events adversely affect local economies in many ways. One obvious example is how these events disrupt people’s ability to work. In the third quarter of 2017, on August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas as a category 4 storm; Harvey affected Southeast Texas and the surrounding areas of the Gulf Coast. Shortly afterwards, on September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall also as a category 4 storm, mainly affecting Florida and nearby states. Irma struck during the household survey reference week (the week that generally includes the 12th of the month). Because people are counted as employed in the CPS even if they were absent from their job for the entire reference week (regardless of whether they were paid), weather events typically do not have a discernible effect on total employment.

Of interest, however, is that the CPS collects data on weather-related work absences.16 In September 2017, 1.5 million full- and part-time workers had a job but were not at work for any part of the reference week because of bad weather. This figure is exceptionally high for September by historical standards. (See figure 11.) An additional 2.9 million full-time workers—those who usually work more than 35 hours per week—worked less than 35 hours during the survey reference week because of bad weather. (These are monthly data that measure what happened specifically during the survey reference and collection weeks and do not capture the full effect of weather-related events.)

Summary

The job market continued to improve for the eighth consecutive year in 2017. Employment–population ratios rose and unemployment rates declined for most demographic groups. Employment growth was largely concentrated in management, professional, and related occupations in 2017, and usual weekly earnings of full-time workers increased. The overall unemployment rate hit a 17-year low of 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. In addition to the unemployment rate, other measures of labor market slack—such as the share of employment made up of involuntary part-time workers or the percentage of people not working or looking for work who want a job—hovered around or just below prerecession lows in 2017. Although unemployment and other measures of labor underutilization improved overall, long-term unemployment remained high. The labor force participation rate showed little change over the year. 

Suggested citation:

Megan Dunn and Andrew Blank, "Job market continued to improve in 2017 as the unemployment rate declined to a 17-year low," Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2018, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2018.11.

Notes


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

2 The data in this article are based on information collected in the Current Population Survey (CPS), also called the household survey, which is a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households nationwide. The survey is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Effective with the release of data for January 2017, the household survey used updated population estimates. Each year, the U.S. 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 2016 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 2017” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2016), https://www.bls.gov/cps/population-control-adjustments-2017.pdf.

3 Although the CPS is a monthly survey, the data analyzed in this article are seasonally adjusted quarterly averages, and all over-the-year changes are comparisons of fourth-quarter data from 2016 with fourth-quarter data from 2017, unless otherwise noted.

4 For additional information on the comparability of labor force statistics by race, see “Counting minorities: a brief history and a look at the future” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2001), https://www.bls.gov/opub/rtaw/pdf/chapter1.pdf.

5 Data for Asians are not seasonally adjusted before 2010.

6 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 are classified as White.

7 For additional information, see “Record unemployment among older workers does not keep them out of the job market,” Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 10-04 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2010), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils81.pdf.

8 In the CPS, veterans are men and women age 18 and over who have previously served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and who were civilians at the time of data collection. Veterans are classified by their period of service: Gulf War era II (September 2001–present); Gulf War era I (August 1990–August 2001); World War II (December 1941–December 1946), Korean War (July 1950–January 1955), and the Vietnam era (August 1964–April 1975); and other service periods (all other time periods). Veterans who served in more than one wartime period are classified in the most recent one.

Effective with data for November 2017, estimates for veterans incorporate population controls derived from an updated Department of Veterans Affairs population model. In accordance with usual practice, BLS did not revise estimates for previous years. Information about the updated veteran population model is available from the Department of Veterans Affairs at https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/Demographics/New_Vetpop_Model/Vetpop16_Overview.pdf.

9 The foreign born are people who reside in the United States but were born outside the country or outside one of its outlying areas, such as Puerto Rico or Guam, to parents who were not U.S. citizens. The foreign born include legally admitted immigrants; refugees; temporary residents, such as students and temporary workers; and undocumented immigrants.

10 For additional information and analysis of data, see Randy E. Ilg and Eleni Theodossiou, “Job search of the unemployed by duration of unemployment,” Monthly Labor Review, March 2012, pp. 41–49, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/03/art3full.pdf; Randy E. Ilg, “How long before the unemployed find jobs or quit looking?” Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 11-1 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2011), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils89.pdf; “Labor force flows in the most recent recession,” Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 10-08 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2010), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils85.pdf; Harley J. Frazis and Randy E. Ilg, “Trends in labor force flows during recent recessions,” Monthly Labor Review, April 2009, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2009/04/art1full.pdf; and Harley J. Frazis, “Employed workers leaving the labor force: an analysis of recent trends,” Monthly Labor Review, May 2017, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2017.16.

11 The duration of joblessness is the length of time (through the current reference week) that people classified as unemployed have been looking for work. CPS estimates on duration of unemployment do not represent “spells” of unemployment or a complete period of job search. The data do not measure how many weeks a person was unemployed before either finding employment or leaving the labor force. The measure represents the ongoing number of weeks individuals had been unemployed at the time they were surveyed. For additional information, see Thomas Luke Spreen, “Ranks of those unemployed for a year or more up sharply,” Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 10-10 (U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics, October 2010), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils87.pdf.

12 Data on earnings are collected from one-fourth of the CPS sample each month and are limited to the earnings of wage and salary workers. Earnings of self-employed workers, whether or not their businesses are incorporated, are excluded from CPS earnings estimates.

13 For additional information, see Emy Sok, “Involuntary part-time work on the rise,” Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 08-08 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2008), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils71.pdf.

14 For additional information, see Steven F. Hipple, “People who are not in the labor force: why aren’t they working?” Beyond the Numbers, December 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-4/people-who-are-not-in-the-labor-force-why-arent-they-working.htm.

15 These are alternative measures of labor underutilization: U-1 is people who are unemployed for 15 weeks or longer as a percentage of the labor force; U-2 is the number of people who lost their jobs or people who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the labor force; U-3 is the total number of people who are unemployed as a percentage of the labor force (official unemployment rate); U-4 is the total number of people who are unemployed, plus discouraged workers, as a percentage of the labor force plus discouraged workers; U-5 is the total number of people who are unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percentage of the labor force plus all people marginally attached to the labor force; and U-6 is the total number of people who are unemployed, plus all people marginally attached to the labor force, plus the total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percentage of the labor force plus all people marginally attached to the labor force. For further information, see Vernon Brundage, “Trends in unemployment and other labor market difficulties,” Beyond the Numbers (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, November 2014), https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-3/pdf/trends-in-unemployment-and-other-labor-market-difficulties.pdf; and Steven E. Haugen, “Measures of labor underutilization from the Current Population Survey,” Working Paper 424 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2009), https://www.bls.gov/osmr/pdf/ec090020.pdf.

16 For additional information and historical analysis on bad-weather series, see Mary Bowler, "Work absences due to bad weather: analysis of data from 1977 to 2010," Issues in Labor Statistics, Summary 12-1 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2012), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ils/pdf/opbils90.pdf.

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About the Author

Megan Dunn
dunn.megan@bls.gov

Megan Dunn is an economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Andrew Blank
blank.andrew@bls.gov

Andrew Blank is an economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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