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Where Unemployment Hits Hardest

Author: Ethan Harris

Downsized. Pink-slipped. Fired. Or perhaps you are fruitlessly searching for your first job, but having little luck. Whatever led to your current jobless state, unemployment hurts. It's a hurt shared by many, however – the Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the September 2014 official unemployment rate as 5.9%. But is unemployment shared equally by all demographics, or are certain groups hit harder than others? A look at the numbers shows that when it comes to searching for elusive work, some groups do have it easier. If you're an Asian male with a PhD between the ages of 40 and 44, living in North Dakota and working in a government job, congratulations! You're statistically the least likely to be unemployed.

How Does the Government Calculate the Unemployment Rate?

Contrary to common belief, the government does not calculate unemployment rates by counting how many people receive unemployment benefits. Instead, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates the unemployment rate each month based on interviews with 60,000 households that are representative of the US population as a whole. The same 60,000 households are not interviewed each month – every month one-fourth of the households change, and no household remains in the survey for more than two years.

During the interview, a Census Bureau agent asks specific questions regarding each household member over the age of 16, including whether they worked for pay in the last week, are on layoff from a job, or are seeking a job. Each person is categorized as either employed – they worked for pay or profit during the survey week; or unemployed – the person does not have a job, has actively looked for work during the prior four weeks, and is currently available for work.

Note that the BLS does not differentiate between full-time, part-time and temporary employment, meaning that a worker who settles for a part-time job or temporary job out of desperation is considered just as employed as a worker at a steady, full-time position. Also, a person without a job who has not made an attempt to find work during the prior four weeks is no longer considered unemployed – the BLS identifies them as no longer in the workforce.

Are Men or Women Likelier to be Unemployed?

Although women are likelier to choose to stay out of the workforce due to family obligations, the majority does work outside the home – overall, 57.2% of women over the age of 16 are in the workforce, compared to 69.7% of men. For mothers, work outside the home is highest for those with school-age children, and lowest among mothers of infants. When it comes to unemployment, however, men and women are fairly equal – in 2013, 7.1% of women over the age of 16 were unemployed, compared to 7.6% of men.

What's Age Got to Do with It?

It's great to be young – unless you're looking for employment, since the older you get, the likelier you are to be in the workforce. While the overall unemployment rate for ages 16 and up was 7.4% in 2013, that number soared to 21% of the 18-19 year-olds and 12.8% of the 20-24 year-olds. In terms of employment, your 40s are the best decade, with 77.7% of 40-44 year-olds in the labor force, and 76.6% employment among those aged 45-49. Among traditional retirement-age workers, 30.3% of those between the ages of 65-69 continue to work, while a surprising 7.6% of people older than 75 are still in the workforce.

Is Race a Factor?

When it comes to employment, race plays a role. Although Asians make up only 5.3% of the population, they have the highest participation in the workforce, with only 5.2% unemployed in 2013. Whites make up 77.7% of the population, and had an unemployment rate of 6.5% in 2013. For African-Americans, who make up 13.2% of the population, unemployment was high at 13.1%.

Where Do You Live?

Unemployment rates vary throughout the country, with the lowest unemployment for September 2014 found in North Dakota, where only 2.8% of the labor force is out of work, thanks to the oil boom. The state hit hardest is Georgia, where 7.9% of the labor force is unemployed. In general, unemployment is highest in the western and southern states, and lowest in the north-central states of North and South Dakota and Nebraska.

What Do You Do?

Your industry plays a part in your likelihood of being unemployed. Perhaps due to a still-struggling economy, the hardest hit industry as of September 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is leisure and hospitality, with an 8.3% unemployment rate. Agriculture and construction are having tough times as well, with 7.5% and 7.0% unemployment, respectively. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the industries with the least out-of-work people are government, with only 3.0% unemployment, financial services at 3.5% and education and health services at 3.9%.

Do You Have a College Degree?

One of the strongest factors, statistically, in a person's likelihood of being unemployed, is their level of education. In 2013, only 2.2% of those with doctoral degrees were unemployed, versus 11.0% of those without a high school diploma. Workers with only a high school diploma or some college, but no degree, had higher rates of unemployment than the national average, while those with associate's degrees or above had lower rates of unemployment than the overall average.

What about Part-Time Jobs?

A significant percentage of the labor force works part-time not out of desire, but economic necessity, including inability to find full-time employment, seasonal dips and unfavorable business conditions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in September 2014, 7.1 million people worked part-time out of economic necessity, including 2.6 million who could not find full-time employment despite a desire to do so. Another 19 million people worked part-time out of a desire for reduced hours.

The Bottom Line

Although far more people are employed than not, that's of little comfort if you are in the unfortunate percentage who want to work but are having difficulty finding a job. While many factors are out of your control, including race, gender and age, others -- such as industry, education and area of the country – can be changed if necessary to increase your odds of finding work.

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