Patterns of Unemployment

Unemployment Rates by Group

Unemployment is not distributed evenly across the U.S. population. Figure shows unemployment rates broken down in various ways: by gender, age, and race/ethnicity.

Graph a shows the trends in unemployment rates by gender for the year 1972 to 2014. In 1972 the graph starts out at 6.6% for females. It jumps to 9.3% in 1975 for females, gradually goes back down until 2009, when it rises to 8.1%. It gradually lowers to 6.1% in 2014 for females. For males, it starts out at  around 5% in 1972, goes up and down periodically, and ends at 6.3% in 2014.  Graph b shows the trends in unemployment rates for women, by age for the year 1972 to 2014. In 1972, the graph starts out around 9% for women aged 20–24, goes up to 13.6% in 1975, and ends at 11.2% in 2014. In 1972, the graph starts out at 3.7% for women aged 25–54, jumps to 6.4% in 1975, and ends at around 5% in 2014. In 1972, the graph starts out around 3% for women aged 55 and over. It remains between 3–5% until 2010, when it jumps to 7%. In 2014, it drops down to 4.4%.  Graph c shows the trends in unemployment rates by race and ethnicity for the year 1972 to 2014. In 1972, the graph starts out at 10.4% for blacks, rises to nearly 15% in 1975, rises even more in 1983 to 19.5%, and ends up around 11% in 2014. In 1972, the graph starts out around 7% for Hispanics, rises to around 12% in 1975, and ends at 7.4% in 2014. In 1972, the graph starts out around 5% for whites, jumps to nearly 8% in 1975, jumps again to nearly 8.5% in 1982, and ends up at around 5% in 2014.
Unemployment Rate by Demographic Group (a) By gender, 1972–2016. Unemployment rates for men used to be lower than unemployment rates for women, but in recent decades, the two rates have been very close, often– and especially during and soon after the Great Recession – with the unemployment rate for men somewhat higher. (b) By age, 1972–2016. Unemployment rates are highest for the very young and become lower with age. (c) By race and ethnicity, 1972–2016. Although unemployment rates for all groups tend to rise and fall together, the unemployment rate for blacks is typically about twice as high as that for whites, while the unemployment rate for Hispanics is in between. (Source: www.bls.gov)

The unemployment rate for women had historically tended to be higher than the unemployment rate for men, perhaps reflecting the historical pattern that women were seen as “secondary” earners. By about 1980, however, the unemployment rate for women was essentially the same as that for men, as Figure (a) shows. During the 2008-2009 recession and in the immediate aftermath, the unemployment rate for men exceeded the unemployment rate for women. Subsequently, however, the gap has narrowed.

Read this report for detailed information on the 2008–2009 recession. It also provides some very useful information on the statistics of unemployment.

QR Code representing a URL

Younger workers tend to have higher unemployment, while middle-aged workers tend to have lower unemployment, probably because the middle-aged workers feel the responsibility of needing to have a job more heavily. Younger workers move in and out of jobs more than middle-aged workers, as part of the process of matching of workers and jobs, and this contributes to their higher unemployment rates. In addition, middle-aged workers are more likely to feel the responsibility of needing to have a job more heavily. Elderly workers have extremely low rates of unemployment, because those who do not have jobs often exit the labor force by retiring, and thus are not counted in the unemployment statistics. Figure (b) shows unemployment rates for women divided by age. The pattern for men is similar.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans is substantially higher than the rate for other racial or ethnic groups, a fact that surely reflects, to some extent, a pattern of discrimination that has constrained blacks’ labor market opportunities. However, the gaps between unemployment rates for whites and for blacks and Hispanics diminished in the 1990s, as Figure (c) shows. In fact, unemployment rates for blacks and Hispanics were at the lowest levels for several decades in the mid-2000s before rising during the recent Great Recession.

Finally, those with less education typically suffer higher unemployment. In January 2017, for example, the unemployment rate for those with a college degree was 2.5%; for those with some college but not a four year degree, the unemployment rate was 3.8%; for high school graduates with no additional degree, the unemployment rate was 5.3%; and for those without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate was 7.7%. This pattern arises because additional education typically offers better connections to the labor market and higher demand. With less attractive labor market opportunities for low-skilled workers compared to the opportunities for the more highly-skilled, including lower pay, low-skilled workers may be less motivated to find jobs.

3 of 9