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Friday, May 4, 2012

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

What Was the Unemployment Rate When Obama Took Office Compared to Now? (November 2015 update)

The following numbers are outdated.  For current numbers, please click the above link.

What was the unemployment rate when Bush left office and Obama was inaugurated? 7.8%

How high did it go?  10.0% 
What is today's (April 2012's) unemployment rate?   8.1%

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.
What caused the Rise in the Unemployment Rate When Obama Took Office?
This was a question I received, and I thought I would answer it here. just mentioned, the unemployment rate was on its way up with a bullet starting in early 2008.  The unemployment rate was 4.4% in mid 2007 before the full impact of the housing crash hit the labor market.  Employment in construction hit a max in mid 2006 and had already started down by mid 2007, but most other employment sectors were not impacted.  But by late 2007, the entire economy was starting to feel the impact of the housing crash.  In a year and a half, from June 2007 until January 2009, the unemployment rate went from 4.4% to the 7.8% discussed above.  
That's why we say that Obama inherited a rapidly-increasing unemployment rate.  Why did it continue to rise after Obama took office?  It takes a while for any government policy to take effect.  Both TARP, the bank bailout signed by Bush in late 2008, and ARRA, the stimulus signed by Obama in February 2009, needed time to take effect, and that simply did not happen immediately.  How long does it take to turn around the proverbial airline carrier vs. a speed boat?  However, even though it took 9 months for the unemployment rate to max out (see below) and start decreasing, the rate of increase slowed down by June 2009.
The question, "What Caused the Rise in the Unemployment Rate After Obama Took Office?" really makes no sense...  The unemployment rate was rising rapidly before  Obama took office, and it took a few months for policies to kick in and stem the job bloodbath.   A better question would be "What Caused the Rise in the Unemployment Rate Starting in 2007?"   The answer to that would be the housing crisis and the resulting crisis in banks and lending institutions.  But that is outside the scope of this article.
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 April 2012, the "official" unemployment rate in seasonally adjusted numbers is at 8.1%, with 12,500,000 (out of a labor force of 154,365,000) unemployed and actively looking for work.  141,865,000 people are working now.  (Last month 142,034,000 were working.  This is a decrease of 169,000 people working in seasonally adjusted numbers.)  The unemployment rate  decreased by .1% (one tenth of a percent) as unemployment decreased by 173,000 and as 330,000 people left the labor force in March.  (We still have 478,000 more people in the labor force than we did in December, however.)  (The unemployment rate has now decreased .8% since October.) 
  • In unadjusted "raw" numbers the unemployment rate is now 7.7%, an decrease of .7% (three-tenths of a percent) since March.  In "raw" real numbers, 11,910,000 (out of a labor force of 153,905,000) are unemployed and actively looking for work.  141,995,000 are working now in "raw" numbers unadjusted for seasonal variation.  (This is an increase of 583,000 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 8.1% today.   12,049,000 were officially unemployed back then, and 12,573,000 are unemployed today.  
  • Using nonseasonally adjusted numbers, the unemployment rate was already 8.5% when Obama took office, and it is 7.7% today.   13,009,000 were officially unemployed in "raw" numbers back then, and 11,910,000 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. Thanks for the facts & keep giving up the true facts.

  2. The "real" unemployment rate - a broader, more inclusive measure of the country's jobless picture than the one usually used - remained unchanged at 14.5 percent in April, as the economy created a paltry 115,000 jobs.

    Known formally as the U-6 unemployment rate, this measure includes those formally counted as unemployed, those known to be marginally attached to the workforce, and those who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work.
    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U-6 unemployment rate remained flat in April at 14.5 percent - meaning some 22.8 million people are either unemployed, have stopped looking for work, or need full-time work but can only find part-time employment.

    The U-6 rate is considered to be a more accurate measure of the unemployment picture because it includes a broader sample of those affected by poor economic conditions. By including both unemployed persons and those marginally attached, this measure captures people the BLS would normally count as out of the workforce.

    Being marginally attached to the workforce means that a person is not employed and has not looked for a job in the past month - but would accept a job if any were available. The measure best captures people who are available to work but who have given up looking for a job.

    1. First of all, Michael O, you just copied this from one of many right-wing blogs. Are you capable of having your own thoughts and writing things in your own words?

      You copy: "The U-6 rate is considered to be a more accurate measure of the unemployment picture because it includes a broader sample of those affected by poor economic conditions" WHO considers this to be a more accurate measure of unemployment.. and HOW LONG have they considered it to be a more accurate measure of unemployment?

      Not sure what the point of the author (whoever you copied this from)is... Now that the U-3, the number that has been used to publicize the unemployment trends FOREVER (I don't remember the U-6 or U-7 rates ever being discussed until this recession), is going down, why are so many people coming out of the woodwork to babble about the U-6 rate?

      Though the U-6 rate was flat in April, it has been going down and going down and going down even more over the past two years.

      The official U-6 in January 2009 was 14.0% when Obama took office. Calculations based on subsequent revisions to the number of people actually unemployed show that it was actually 14.1% when Obama took office. It jumped to 15.1 in February 2009, and to (at least) 15.6% in March 2009. It has been falling for the past two years and it is now 14.5%.

      The U-3 is the officially used measure of unemployment because it is the measure of unemployment that has been used for decades and is comparable over time and is also comparable across countries.

      The definition of "marginally attached" is slightly different that what the author says it means:

      "Persons ″marginally attached to the labor force″ are those who want a job, have searched for work during the prior 12 months, and were available to take a job during the reference week, but had not looked for work in the past 4 weeks."

      These are the reasons that the 2,363,000 "marginally attached" people had not looked for work in the past four weeks:
      968,000 "discouraged", 313,000 "in school", 149,000 "ill health or disability", 192,000 "family responsibilities", 742,000 "other". "Other" includes "those who did not actively look for work in the prior 4 weeks for such reasons as child-care and transportation problems, as well as a small number for which reason for nonparticipation was not ascertained."

      The number of marginally attached people is not seasonally adjusted, so it does fluctuate quite a bit. It peaked in mid to late 2010, and has come down over the past two years. It usually peaks in January, as it is seasonally unadjusted, but it has been running 100,000 to 150,000 fewer than a year prior.

      So why should we suddenly start using the U-6 rate to publish unemployment when we never have before? Because people who are stooges for corporate takeover of this country, like many unwitting Republican supporters, don't want to see any good news on the jobs front.

      (Originally posted May 9,2012)

  3. And Carl H, thanks so much for the vote of confidence!

  4. Talk about lying with statistics..

    I love your use of the "OFFICIAL" unemployment figures ..which of course leaves out those no longer looking for work.

    If you include those who have given up..we have LOST millions of jobs under Obama as the labor participation rate sinks to new lows.

    Nice try molly... but you aren't fooling anyone.

    Least of all. those of us who are paying close attention.

  5. I'm writing an article right now about who should be considered as unemployed. 93% of the people who did not look for work in the last month, by the way, say they "do not want a job now".

    Now.. should someone who says they "want a job" but they haven't looked for work in... two months.. six months... a year... two years.. be counted as "unemployed"?

    We do keep track of people who say they haven't looked for work in the last month because they are too discouraged.. but that number is GOING DOWN.

    The labor force participation rate has mostly been going down due to the AGING of the population, not to hordes of people giving up a search for work in deep despair.

    I have many, many articles about that topic here.. just look a little bit.

    You are clearly not paying attention to anything but your own pain. And I feel for you, as we have been dealing with long-term unemployment here for four years now.. one or the other one of us.

    But you tell me... Do you really think that the 21 million dollar a year man with the wife who writes off more for her horses than most people make in a year has anything to offer to you? Why or why not?


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.