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Friday, February 3, 2012

What Was the Unemployment Rate When Obama Took Office? (January 2012 update)

The following numbers are for January 2012.  For current numbers, please click the link above.

What was the unemployment rate when Bush left office and Obama was inaugurated?

How high did it go?  10.0% 
What is today's (January 2012's) unemployment rate?   8.3%

How many people were looking for work when Obama was inaugurated, how many were working?  And how many people are looking for work and how many are employed now?   Keep reading!

The Unemployment Rate when Obama took office:
  • For the record, when Obama took office in January 2009, the "official" unemployment rate in seasonally adjusted numbers was 7.8%, with 12,049,000 people reporting themselves as unemployed and actively looking.  142,187,000 people were working in January 2009.*  (These numbers are adjusted slightly since original publication as the Bureau of Labor Statistics updates its numbers.  The original January 2009 unemployment rate reported by the BLS in February 2009 was 7.6%)  
  • In "raw" numbers not adjusted for seasonal variance, the unemployment rate was 8.5% with 13,009,000 people reporting themselves as unemployed and actively looking for work.  140,436,000 people were working in numbers not adjusted for seasonal variance.

The Unemployment Rate at its Peak: 
  • At the "trough" (bottom in terms of jobs) of the recession in late 2009/early 2010, the "official" unemployment rate in seasonally adjusted numbers climbed to 10.0% in October 2009 with 15,421,000 people (out of a labor force of 153,822,000) reporting themselves as unemployed.   138,401,000 were working in October 2009; however, the lowest number of people working was reported in December 2009, when 137,792,000 people (in seasonally adjusted numbers) were working.    
  • In "raw" numbers not adjusted for seasonal variance, the unemployment rate reached a peak of 10.6% in January 2010 with 16,147,000 (out of a labor force of 152,957,000) reporting themselves as unemployed and actively looking for work.  Only 136,809,000 were working (in "raw" unadjusted numbers) in January 2010.

The Unemployment Rate Now:
  • Now, in January 2012, the "official" unemployment rate in seasonally adjusted numbers is at 8.3%, with 12,758,000 (out of a labor force of 154,395,000) unemployed and actively looking for work.  141,637,000 people are working now.  (Last month 140,790,000 were working.  This is an increase of 847,000 people working.)  The unemployment rate decreased .2% (two-tenths of a percent) since December. 
  • In unadjusted "raw" numbers the unemployment rate is now 8.8%, an increase of .5% (five-tenths of a percent) since December.  In "raw" real numbers, 13,541,000 (out of a labor force of 153,485,000) are unemployed and actively looking for work.  139,944,000 are working now in "raw" numbers unadjusted for seasonal variation.  (This is an decrease of 737,000 people working.)

To Summarize the Unemployment Rate Now Compared to When Obama Took Office:
  • Using seasonally adjusted numbers, the unemployment rate was 7.8% (and rising quickly) when Obama took office, and it is 8.3% today.   12,049,000 were officially unemployed back then, and 12,758,000 are unemployed today.  
  • Using nonseasonally adjusted numbers, the unemployment rate was already 8.5% when Obama took office, and it is 8.8% today.   13,009,000 were officially unemployed in "raw" numbers back then, and 13,541,000 are officially unemployed in "raw" numbers now. 
(Note:  All of my employment number reports are based on monthly reports and data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Monthly numbers reports are based on the monthly Employment Situation Report.  The Employment Situation report includes month over month and year over year jobs numbers.  My analysis is taken from the monthly BLS data copied to an Excel spreadsheet every month.  I calculate detailed percentage increases/decreases, 3 month numbers, 2011 to date numbers, and I compare jobs numbers to those at the time of Obama's inauguration and at the "trough" of the recession.)


  1. You ignore the fact that the number of "working age" people in the country grows by 100k to 150k per month.

    Having almost 1 million fewer workers today than at Obama's inauguration is not a good thing. Add in the other 4-5 million young people that never entered the workforce because there were no jobs, and we're still in a world of hurt.

    Even the liberal think tank EPI has pointed this out.

  2. I don't ignore anything. If you read more of my posts you would know that. In this particular post, I report the unemployment rate as reported by the BLS and I use that as a basis for comparison. I publish a monthly "underemployment rate".. those numbers are all going down as well.

    As I have posted at various places throughout this blog, we still need many more jobs and workers to make up for the extremely deep hole in the economy in the years 2007 through 2010. We lost 8 million jobs during those years. 8 million. We've made up almost 4 million of those jobs, and that is really pretty good. Do you think that McCain and the despicable, incompetent P woman would have done any better?

    In terms of all of these "missing" workers, yes, of course, there are fewer people working now as recovery from this extremely deep recession has been painfully slow. About people in the 25-54 age group not entering the labor market (which is discussed in the EPI link), the labor force participation rate for people in this age group is now the same as it was in 1986. The labor force participation rate for this age group reached its peak in 1997 at 84.5% and has been decreasing ever since.

    Employment participation is clearly a function of the economy overlaid on the demographics demonstrated by the labor participation rate; the labor force participation is much more likely to be a function of demographics. But employment participation for this group hit a peak of 81.9% in early 2000 and has been declining ever since. It burped back up over 80% in late 2007/early 2008, and then continued down. The portion of the population that is now in the 55+ age group has grown by about 9,000,000 since the last Census. Other age groups have grown modestly or not at all. As people hit 55, they start to retire. The labor participation rate of people over 55 is about half of that of the labor participation rate of people in the 25-54 age group.

    I've been researching this fairly closely over the past couple of weeks, and I am increasingly believing that much of the decrease in the labor participation rate is the result of demographics... not that there aren't people who have fled the job market, but the millions of "lost" people decried by Fox News and others are mostly Baby Boomers who have retired.... who have not been replaced by the Baby Bust generation. I'll publish those findings when they are complete.


I appreciate intelligent comments and questions, including those that are at odds with anything posted here. I have elected not to screen comments before they are published; however, any comments that are in any way insulting, caustic, or intentionally inflammatory will be deleted without notice. Spam will also be immediately deleted.