The health of the U.S. labor market appears to be improving as most states have lifted COVID-19 restrictions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday, April 1 that the nation’s monthly unemployment rate for March 2022 dropped to 3.6% and the number of unemployed people dropped by 318,000 to 6 million.
In a tweet, President Joe Biden claimed that "there have been only three months in the last 50 years where the unemployment rate in America was lower than it is now."
Has U.S. unemployment dipped below its current rate only three times in the last 50 years?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
- Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization
- Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
- Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute
Yes, U.S. unemployment has dipped below its current rate only three times in the last 50 years.
WHAT WE FOUND
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the federal agency that tracks the nation’s unemployment rate on a monthly and annual basis. VERIFY compared monthly BLS data from 1972 to present.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that the unemployment rate has dipped below its current monthly rate of 3.6% only three times since 1972, as Biden claimed. It was 3.5% in September 2019, and then again in January and February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The unemployment rate doesn’t take into account all people who are not working, however. People who aren’t working and don’t meet the criteria to be counted as unemployed are considered “out of the labor force” and aren’t factored into the official unemployment rate, Stephanie Aaronson, vice president and director of economic studies for the Brookings Institute, explains. People who report wanting a job but have not looked for work in the most recent four weeks are among those considered “out of the labor force.”
A BLS measure called U-6 is different from the official unemployment rate. It counts those who are technically unemployed, people who are working part-time but would prefer full-time, and those who want a job but have not looked for work in the most recent four weeks.
The U-6 rate for March 2022 was 6.9 percent. That is about on par with the U-6 rate from before the pandemic – it hovered around 7% in January and February 2020. That’s compared to a U-6 rate of nearly 23% in April 2020, at the height of COVID-19 restrictions, when the official unemployment rate was 14.8%.
So what can we expect for the rest of 2022? Experts predict the unemployment rate will remain around as low as it is right now through this year. Economic forecasters surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia expect the 2022 annual unemployment rate to be 3.7%, which the U.S. last saw in 2019.
Heidi Sheirholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, explained in a Twitter thread that the U.S. economy is currently “on pace to recover nearly eight years faster” from the high unemployment rates created by the COVID-19 pandemic than it did from the Great Recession. This is in part due to Congress acting to provide COVID-19 relief, including the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan, Shierholz said.
“We would have millions fewer jobs today if Congress had not enacted the COVID relief and recovery measures it did,” she wrote.
A low unemployment rate isn’t always good news for the economy, though, experts say. It can sometimes be an indicator of another recession on the way.