60 Years of Unemployment

By Ross Perez November 11, 2009

With unemployment approaching the record highs of 1983, many of us are wondering how recent unemployment compares with other decades. We’ve taken the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data and created a visualization that allows a side-by-side comparison of the peaks and troughs in US employment by decade, going as far back as 1948. There are some interesting findings: forsaking the past year and a half, unemployment in the 2000's has been considerably lower than the 1990's. Highlight multiple decades to see how they compare to each other.

As a member of GenY, the recent financial crises has subjected me to a continual repeat of the following sentence: "You didn't live through the '70's... trust me it was way worse." By selecting the 70's and 2000's on the viz, I discovered that in general the 70s had higher unemployment than the current decade. However, the trend of 2008-09 is alarming. Interestingly, monthly changes in employment during the 70s were more often positive – perhaps a reflection of baby boomers entering the workforce. The scatter plot also show how relatively stable unemployment has been throughout the 2000's, although you can see the effects of the recent financial crises in the red outlier dots representing some of the biggest drops in employment in recent history. We sure could use another September 1983 job spike.

Create your own comparisons with this interactive viz.

By Ross Perez

Comments

Submitted by Dan M. on

Nice work. It would also be interesting to see this same data using color for decade, but the horizontal axis being month of year averages.

Will you share the dataset you created from the BLS dataset? I'd love to play with it.

Submitted by Ross Perez on

Thanks for your comments and insight Dan. We will do you one better on the data- here is the Tableau file itself so you can do whatever analysis you please with it: http://www.tableausoftware.com/files/Unemployment60.twbx. Enjoy!

Ross

Submitted by DCasey (not verified) on

Quick glance causes the historian in me to ask a very odd question.

Right after the war the unemployment rate is fairly low, GI's coming back find work or go to school. Those in school were most likely not looking for work right away and we see a spike in 1950 (4 years after '46 when alot of GI's came home) and again in '54 (4 years after the US began to pull troops back to American from Occupation duties overseas, but more likeley due to Korea).

Also, 1953 was the end of the Koren War (end being relative since the 2 sides are still technically at War)

Now being the History buff I am I checked as to when most of the baby boomer generation would be entering the workforce (and also the more prevelant presence of females in the workforce). We begin to see unemployment moving ever so slightly upwards. In the 1970's we see a slightly higher rate (Spiking in '75, making many of the children of vets around mid 20's) . In the 1980's it would seem that unemployment was at its highest, then it began to drop again...retiring vets perhaps?

If you think about it in a population vs. people seeking employment context, it could almost be surmised that high unemployment is realted to higher population. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps the amount of jobs avaible in the country doesn't change all that much, just the population of employment seekers.

I may have to look into this some more....thanks Tabeau you either made or ruined my weekend. (I'm not sure which yet)

Submitted by JimR (not verified) on

It gets more interesting when you plot unemployment vs Presidential administrations since 1948. The unemployment rate seems to rise during most Republican administrations (except Reagan's 2nd term) and fall during most Democratic administrations (except for the past 10 months).

Submitted by William Blackburn (not verified) on

Cool info. While you are "at it" how about trying to show how the real unemployment rate in places like Florida swings. At the peak of the housing boom we had a huge number of illegal workers in the construction and related fields. Now we have just about zero because of lack of work. Did we have a negative unemployment rate instead of the 3% government number? What about the swing?

Submitted by remarkable (not verified) on

@ JimR
Would you mind posting a link to that data? I've been looking for something very similar but wanted to include all three branches of government control to track political dominance during those years as well. Also, I wouldn't mind seeing GDP, income tax rates, and national deficit during those years either. I think that sort of data could put a lot of questions to rest for a lot of people.