Monday, November 30, 2009

The Recession vs. The Great Depression: Comparing Unemployment Numbers

The unemployment numbers in the United States aren't pretty.

As of September 2009, 31 million American citizens among a total population around 308 million were reportedly unemployed.

Using the 1930 Census baseline of around 122,775,046 registered Americans, multiplied by the peak Great Depression unemployment rate of 24.9% in 1933, we get a number equal to about 30,570,986 officially unemployed people in the United States during the worst year of the Great Depression - which is slightly less than the total number of unemployed Americans today.

In comparison, dividing our present total population of 308 million by the 31 million unemployed Americans would equal a 9.935% unemployment rate for September 2009. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment increased by 0.4% this month, making their official October 2009 unemployment rate 10.2%, and my rough calculations not too far from the actual government statistics.

Obviously, the various data collection methodologies need to be factored in, so none of these statistics are 100% accurate. Even the Bureau of Labor Statistics website itself admits this point:

since it is impractical to actually count every unemployed person each month, the Government conducts a monthly sample survey called the Current Population Survey (CPS) to measure the extent of unemployment in the country. The CPS has been conducted in the United States every month since 1940, when it began as a Work Projects Administration project. It has been expanded and modified several times since then."

Proportionately speaking, the United States unemployment rate hasn't reached the worst levels of the Great Depression. However, assuming the population and unemployment rate statistics I've used are all relatively accurate, the actual number of unemployed people in the United States right now is larger than it ever was during the Depression.*

Better brush up on that resume.

*If anyone reading this has more precise data related to this subject that would refute my claims, I would love to see it. Then again, I would also love it if 31 million people in my country weren't unemployed to begin with.


Nairda Ecartal said...

Ah yes, well the Great Depression was also a time of great changes in political theory and labor movements. Perhaps the times have changed and numbers mean something but what ever happened to civic participation? Would the labor department today really utilize federal resources for say sustainable urban development? It's easy to put some unemployed guys to work digging ditches, but to build 100 more Hoover Dams would be something else for sure! -- AJ

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