Record Low Number of Jobless Americans Who Want Work: Survey

November 3, 2019 Updated: November 4, 2019

The share of Americans who lack a job and actually want one has never been lower, as far as government survey data goes.

About 3 percent of Americans didn’t have a job and wanted one in October, which is the lowest number based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Census Bureau data going back to 1994.

The number suggests that even Americans who haven’t previously tried to get a job for one reason or another are coming from off the sidelines.

This percentage is different from the unemployment rate, which only counts people in the “labor force,” meaning those who work or who sought a job in the past four weeks. Aside from excluding people under 16 and uniformed military personnel, the unemployment rate also misses all those who’ve given up seeking work as well as those who’d like to work but aren’t currently looking because they go to school or have health problems, transportation issues, or family responsibilities.

As such, America had just over 5.5 million people counted as unemployed, but nearly twice as many who actually wanted jobs in October.

The number of people not in the labor force but who want a job has only been tracked on the BLS website since 1994, and the data isn’t adjusted for seasonal changes, which can cause natural month-to-month shifts.

Even so, the October number is noteworthy, standing at 4,412,000. That’s down about 13 percent from 5,048,000 in October last year and roughly 28 percent from 6,122,000 in October 2014.

Willing to Work

The number of Americans willing to jump back into the labor force surprised some economists, who had predicted in mid-2017 that the economy was getting to “full employment.”

Full employment is a somewhat chimeric term that means a point of balanced labor supply and demand. Once beyond full employment, the theory goes, employers have to boost salaries to compete for workers. As a result, prices—and thus inflation—go up.

But since mid-2017, the economy has added nearly 3 million additional jobs with only mild inflation. Wages were up 3 percent October-to-October, but, it appears, that’s largely due to improved productivity.

Unemployment Rate Stays Low

The economy added 128,000 jobs in October, which is down from the revised numbers for September (180,000) and August (219,000).

The unemployment rate slightly increased to 3.6 percent in October from 3.5 the previous month. That seems to be mostly because tens of thousands of General Motors workers were on strike for most of October and thus were counted as jobless.

Black unemployment dropped to 5.4 percent, breaking another record low in data reaching back to 1972. It was already the fifth time the record has been broken since December 2017. Before that, the rate had never fallen below 7 percent.

Hispanic unemployment increased to 4.1 percent from the record low of 3.9 percent the month before.

Trump’s Tariffs

Low unemployment benefits President Donald Trump, since a strong economy is one of the main pillars of his platform.

A strong job market has allowed Trump to impose extensive trade penalties on China and take on Chinese retaliation without a major effect on U.S. employment. China, on the other hand, has suffered a severe blow to its economy.

Trump has imposed tariffs on $550 billion worth of Chinese imports in an attempt to force the Beijing regime to open its market to American goods and companies, stop stealing U.S. intellectual property, stop forcing U.S. companies to hand over industry know-how, and address other U.S. grievances.

China retaliated by placing tariffs on U.S. products, so the flow of goods diminished in both directions. Yet China imports from the United States less than one quarter of what it exports to the United States, which means it holds the short end of the stick in the trade war.

Both U.S. and Chinese officials have recently indicated that they’re finalizing an agreement on a “phase one” trade deal which, according to Trump, covers major parts of the negotiated issues. Meanwhile, the United States has collected more than $35 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods.

Correction: The article, including the headline, has been corrected to reflect that it pertains to Americans who didn’t have a job but wanted one and that the October job growth was 128,000 jobs. The Epoch Times regrets the errors.

Update: The article has been edited for clarity.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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