Let’s Not Celebrate the 3.9% Unemployment Rate

There are lots of headlines today that are focused on the headline unemployment rate falling to 3.9 percent. I guess that’s why they call it the headline unemployment rate.

But this month it’s a mirage. Here’s an excerpt from the household survey that the BLS uses to calculate the unemployment rate:

Take a look at those numbers. The number of unemployed is indeed down by 239,000, but where did they go? Not to the ranks of the employed, which rose by only 3,000. It turns out they left the labor force entirely, which is why the civilian labor force fell by 236,000 even though the total population grew.

So, sure, the unemployment rate is down, but it’s because 236,000 people gave up and quit looking for work—which means they no longer get counted as unemployed. This is bad news, not good.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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