Business, Economics and Jobs

US jobless rate at four-year low, but employment problems persist


People looking for work stand in line to apply for a job during a job fair at the Miami Dolphins Sun Life stadium on May 2, 2013 in Miami, Florida.


Joe Raedle

The United States jobless rate dipped from 7.6 percent to 7.4 percent in July, with the country adding about 162,000 jobs last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

It's the lowest unemployment rate in four years, dating back to December 2008. A year ago, the jobless rate was around 8.2 percent.

"Over the prior 12-month period, job gains averaged 189,000 per month. In July, employment rose in retail trade, food services, financial activities, and wholesale trade," the bureau said in its monthly statement.

While the new numbers suggest a recovering economy, the lower unemployment rate, taken alone as an economic indicator, hides other data that still shows a harsh and unhealthy job market.

Consider the "U-6" jobless rate: the government measures unemployment in a number of different ways, and what is usually reported as the typical unemployment rate — the 7.4 percent figure — leaves out a few people. The U-6 calculation includes part-time workers who want but can't find full-time jobs and those who have stopped looking for work. By that estimation, the number of struggling working-age Americans dipped from 14.3 percent in June to 14 percent in July. 

Added to that is a very low labor force participation rate of 63.4 percent — a 35-year low that continues what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says "generally has been on a downward trend" since the end of the recession. And, of course, last month, 37,000 workers left the labor force because they couldn't find jobs.

The number of long-term unemployed people has slightly decreased, though it's still high. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that figure could hurt the country's economic growth, as those who go without work for long periods are less likely to find jobs again.

Indeed, as of July, 4.25 million Americans had been unemployed for at least six months.