Unemployment rate

A measure of the extent of unemployment in the labor force at some particular time, expressed as a percentage of the total available labor force. Nearly all national governments now have some statistical agency or department charged with gathering the necessary data and estimating the unemployment rate at frequent intervals (monthly or quarterly) for the guidance of policy-makers. In broad terms the underlying concepts are pretty similar from one country to the next: the number of people classified as unemployed is to be divided by the number of people classified as being in the available labor force, with the result expressed in percentage terms. However, differences from country to country in classification rules and practical data collection methods used for estimating both the numerator and the denominator of this fraction make precise international comparison of unemployment rates very difficult, if not impossible. The use of jobless totals derived from the agencies that distribute unemployment insurance benefits is particularly suspect but nevertheless widely practiced by some countries' official statistical agencies. For example, some people may falsely claim they would accept a job offer at current wage rates when in fact they are making no effort (or only a token show of effort) to locate such a job, misreporting their intentions so that they may continue to draw unemployment benefits for a time. Other people may be actively, even desperately, seeking a job and yet not show up in such a count because they are technically ineligible for unemployment benefits (perhaps through lack of previous work experience or through having exhausted the time-limit) and so do not bother to report the success or failure of their job-hunting efforts to the government unemployment office. (Well-designed sample surveys of the population or of employers have much better validity for measuring the true unemployment rate but still have credibility problems of their own. For example, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people who are really gainfully employed but whose work is in illegal activities -- such as bootlegging, prostitution, drug-dealing, loan-sharking, illegal gambling operations, smuggling, or simply working conventional trades "off the books" to avoid taxes -- cheerfully deny having a job when questioned by government pollsters in suits who might well inform on them to the police.)

See also: