How Economists Define and Compute Unemployment Rate

Self-Check Questions

Suppose the adult population over the age of 16 is 237.8 million and the labor force is 153.9 million (of whom 139.1 million are employed). How many people are “not in the labor force?” What are the proportions of employed, unemployed and not in the labor force in the population? Hint: Proportions are percentages.


The population is divided into those “in the labor force” and those “not in the labor force.” Thus, the number of adults not in the labor force is 237.8 – 153.9 = 83.9 million. Since the labor force is divided into employed persons and unemployed persons, the number of unemployed persons is 153.9 – 139.1 = 14.8 million. Thus, the adult population has the following proportions:

  • 139.1/237.8 = 58.5% employed persons
  • 14.8/237.8 = 6.2% unemployed persons
  • 83.9/237.8 = 35.3% persons out of the labor force

Using the above data, what is the unemployment rate? These data are U.S. statistics from 2010. How does it compare to the February 2015 unemployment rate computed earlier?


The unemployment rate is defined as the number of unemployed persons as a percentage of the labor force or 14.8/153.9 = 9.6%. This is higher than the February 2015 unemployment rate, computed earlier, of 5.5%.