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Not To Belabor Things: What Unemployment Rates Don't Tell You

Not To Belabor Things: What Unemployment Rates Don't Tell You

As the US celebrated Labor Day on Monday, President Trump took to Twitter to remind the world how good things are for American workers today. And with unemployment around 3.9 percent, you can’t blame him. Nearly a decade after the global financial crisis, the US and much of Europe are just starting to see employment return to pre-crisis levels.


But as Gabe is here to explain, national-level unemployment numbers conceal at least as much as they reveal, in three ways that you should bear in mind:

First, they count the jobless but omit the hopeless. Unemployment rates count joblessness only among people who are actively looking for work. Those who’ve given up or are unable to seek employment are left out entirely. So while unemployment in the US has fallen from a high of 9.6 percent in 2014 to around 3.9 percent today, it’s also true that the American labor force (which includes people working or looking for jobs) has shrunk by about 3.2 since 2008—in part due to a rise in those who’ve given up on the job search or are too sick to look for work.

Second, they don’t tell you about local conditions. Politically speaking, the geographic or ethnic distribution of unemployment and worker dislocation matters at least as much as the national average. Consider that the UK county of Lincolnshire, where a larger percentage of workers have left the labor forcein recent years than in any other region in the Britain, had the highest pro-Brexit vote share in the entire country. Meanwhile in Pas-De-Calais, France, the unemployment rate is more than three points higher than the national average and the highest in continental France – this was one of only two departments where a majority voted for the far-right National Front in the 2017 presidential election. And of course in the 2016 US Presidential election, rural areas that have seen much slower employment growth than urban ones voted almost uniformly for President Trump, even as national employment numbers were improving.

Third, they tell you nothing about the quality of jobs. The US, for example, has experienced significant jobs gains over the past few years, but many of those jobs have been in low paying industries. Just because you have a job doesn’t mean it offers enough security to pay the bills or take care of your family. In the US, the share of national income (i.e., wages and benefits) going to workers in industries like manufacturing and construction, which are typically high paying, has been steadily declining for more than two decades.

In sum, a low national unemployment number is always better than a higher one – but in order to understand what’s really going on, you can’t rely on it alone.

President and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, comes to 'That Made All the Difference' podcast to discuss his time as mayor of New Orleans, today's challenges, and what it will take to build a more just, equitable and inclusive society.

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Though celebrations will surely be more subdued this year, many Germans will still gather (virtually) on October 3 to celebrate thirty years since reunification.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall — and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union — Germany reunited in a process whereby the much wealthier West absorbed the East, with the aim of expanding individual freedoms and economic equality to all Germans.

But thirty years later, this project has — to a large extent — been difficult to pull off. The economic and quality of life gap is shrinking, but lingering inequality continues to impact both German society and politics.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

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Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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This content is brought to you by our 2020 UN General Assembly partner, Microsoft.

Watch UN Innovation Room conversations weekly on Thursdays at 9 am EDT: https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream/

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