7 Employment Charts You've Got to See

Today, 5.5 million more Americans are working than were in February 2010. That's the good news.

But we are still likely years away from a jobs market anyone could consider normal. Twelve million are officially out of work. Millions more want full-time work but can't get it. The longer this lasts, the harder it is to break, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress this week: "Lengthy periods of unemployment and underemployment can erode workers' skills and attachment to the labor force or prevent young people from gaining skills and experience in the first place -- developments that could significantly reduce their productivity and earnings in the longer term."

It's ugly.

Here are seven ways to show the mess we're in.

First is what's been called "the scariest unemployment chart of all time," a historical look at recessions from the blog Calculated Risk:

In terms of both depth and duration, the downturn of the last four years has been unprecedented since the Great Depression. At the current pace of jobs growth, we will be back to full employment sometime around the next presidential election in 2016.

This, also from Calculated Risk, shows the composition of layoffs, hires, quits, and job openings. Anytime the blue line is below the red bars, we're losing jobs:

There's a really important takeaway from this chart: The reason unemployment rose so high during the recession isn't necessarily that so many people were laid off -- layoffs never got that high. Rather, we faced moderate layoffs coupled with very low levels of new hiring. If you lost your job, it was a bear to get a new one.

Who wasn't hiring? Governments, for one. Government employment -- typically a fail-safe during recessions -- is lower today than it was in 2005 (the sharp spikes in 2000 and 2010 reflect temporary Census hiring):

The cuts were deeper when you narrow it down to the state level. There are fewer state government employees today than there were in 2002, even though the overall population has increased by 26 million since then.

Here's the number of quits per layoff. When it's less than one, more people are being laid off than quitting voluntarily:

Next, here's the unemployment rates broken out by state. Red is current, while blue is the maximum unemployment rate hit during the recession:

Every state is below its recession peak. And if you want a job, move to North Dakota.

Here's what I think is one of the most incredible employment charts that exist. It's the total share of men that are employed:

Not only is the decline steadily downward (mostly due to a rising share of women entering the workforce), but every recession brings a steep decline in male employment, and the subsequent recovery never eclipses its pre-recession peak.

Finally, here's the number of unemployed persons per job opening:

This ratio has come down a lot, which is great. But it's still about double where it was before the recession. And the ratio likely understates the reality of the labor market, as companies have been known to publish job postings to test the market without intending to hire, or to satisfy internal labor law when they intend to promote from within.

For more on employment, check out:


Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (53)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2013, at 3:26 PM, StopPrintinMoney wrote:

    the govt tells us all is good. and we believe these blood-sucking bureaucrats, cuz they don't have reasons to lie.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2013, at 6:44 PM, SkepikI wrote:

    Morgan: Do "quits" include voluntary retirements or not? I have not seen a chart or statistic that takes into account or even seeks to elucidate the number of job openings specifically from those people who are retiring. This SHOULD be (but may not be) a pretty large number, since for the past one or two years 10,000 people a day are turning 65 (my favorite stat) and even if only half are employed, that amounts to 150,000 jobs a month that should be vacated due to retirement......

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:55 AM, 49cent wrote:

    How about a chart of private sector employment?

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:07 PM, Keal7 wrote:

    "Who wasn't hiring? Governments, for one. Government employment -- typically a fail-safe during recessions -- is lower today than it was in 2005"

    - And the brainwashed moron keep fantasizing that government is getting too big is what is causing our problem. We are shrinking ourselves into more recession like a fooled anorexic. When u cut government employment, u cut out more tax payers which only reduces revenues and increase deficit, then u yell that govt is living more beyond its means, then u cut more govt until u are in a depression.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 8:27 PM, HanSoLow wrote:

    @ Keal7

    Tax revenues from tax payers are the source for government employee salaries. While government employees also pay taxes, its very hard to ignore the simple concept that as the size of government employment grows larger as compared to private employment tax revenues become consumed by government employee payroll and health / retirement benefits to the exclusion of government services. This is not even considering the potential for organizations / governments to become less effecient as they become larger.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 9:07 PM, INOROUT1 wrote:

    WHY NOT USE JAN 2009, THE BEGINNING OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AS A BASELINE INSTEAD OF 2002 FOR TOTAL NUMBER OF STATE WORKERS, 2005 FOR FEDERAL WORKERS AND 2010 F0R THE INCREASE IN THE TOTAL NUMBER OF AMERICAN WORKERS.? USING A DIFFERENT BASELINE FOR EACH STATISTIC DOES NOT REPRESNT WHAT HAS REALLY HAPPENED SINCE THE START OF THE RECESSION. I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW THOSE STATISTICS.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 4:52 PM, TMFMorgan wrote:

    <<the simple concept that as the size of government employment grows larger as compared to private employment>>

    It's the other way around: Government employment is shrinking while private employment expands.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 7:03 PM, lramos4200 wrote:

    Our elected officials seem to have no touch with this world we live in.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 10:46 AM, Darwood11 wrote:

    Morgan, nice compendium.

    On the "Employment-population ratio- men," I assume that's in accordance the ages 15-64 as usually reported in OECD countries.

    To put this in perspective, in 2010 there were 151,781,326 males in the U.S. 44.82% of these males were either 19 years old or younger and 60 years of age or older. (This per the U.S. Census Bureau).

    What can I say? Anyone who has been paying attention to the employment figures is aware of these statistics. However, the political class is apparently mostly aloof, unawares or untruthful.

    On a personal note, about that OECD working male at the age of 15, I was working at 16 while attending high school and paid SS taxes. I suspect that doing so would today be considered Dickensian and cruel by many in the U.S. Yes, I did miss out out some of the extracurricular activities, and my parents saved a bundle (I paid for my lunch milk and bus fare from my net wages). However, perhaps doing so contributed to my strong work ethic?

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 10:56 AM, 1pence wrote:

    'every recession brings a steep decline in male employment' ... solution ... pay men & women equally?

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 1:12 PM, DufferWD wrote:

    Morgan, interesting charts! These are the kinds of articles I like to see - lots of data looking at different slices of information on the same topic. I know, I know, there's the old saw about lies and statistics. I'm still a believer in putting out the data and let us Fools interpret it as we will.

    Morgan, nice job, as usual.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2013, at 1:13 PM, 300zzipp wrote:

    I love the 'FOOLISH" COMMENT from someone else who seems to think that government spending is a good thing and will keep us out of a recession? Talk about a moron!

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2013, at 5:56 PM, RaceFanDoug wrote:

    @Keal7

    I don't follow your logic. Suppose the government hires 1 employee for $100K/year. His/her taxes will be less than $100K, say $25K. That either adds $75K to the deficit, or forces the rest of us to pay (via our taxes) the $75K difference. This effect gets multiplied by the number of employees hired (and the difference can't be made up by volume :-) ).

    On top of the salary cost are health and retirement benefits as "FutureIsWhtUMkIt" mentioned.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2013, at 12:18 AM, ChrisBern wrote:

    "It's the other way around: Government employment is shrinking while private employment expands."

    That's the one bright spot then in an otherwise dreary article. :)

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2013, at 9:39 PM, Hjstevens2nd wrote:

    Hello I've written to you in the past about statistical things.  My wife and I have some thoughts about what's being reported now by the news.

    The reports are about the number of people retiring every day 10,000 and the number of new jobs being created so if we have about 300,000 people retiring each month and 360000 new jobs being created something doesn't compute.  Either 60,000 new jobs or me being created each month or 660,000. We think it's 60,000 but  what's being reported  is 360,000. Since most of the reporting is being done by pro-Obama reporters something does not look right. Can you clarify this and possibly report this in the Wall Street Journal or the news media. 

    Thanks very much,

     one of your fans. 

  • Report this Comment On March 12, 2013, at 12:08 AM, SkepikI wrote:

    ^ yah, Morgan.... I don't think the employment stats keep track of the number of actual RETIREMENTS. I rather doubt 10,000 people a day are RETIRING because its very hard to track that number (and if the govt reports it I might have trouble believing the number) What is easy to track is age cohorts, so the stat that 10,000 people a day are turning 65, just might be a reliable stat. The inference that since they are eligible for Medicare and can get SS that they actually retire... well that's not so clear. A rational discussion of this gap in real data might be very useful....

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