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Origins of the Unemployment Rate: The Lasting Legacy of Measurement without Theory


  • David Card


The modern definition of unemployment emerged in the late 1930s from research conducted at the Works Progress Administration and the Census Bureau. According to this definition, people who are not working but actively searching for work are counted as unemployed. This concept was first used in the Enumerative Check Census, a follow-up sample for the 1937 Census of Unemployment, and continued with the Monthly Report on the Labor Force survey, begun in December 1939 by the Works Progress Administration. A similar definition is now used to measure unemployment around the world.

Suggested Citation

  • David Card, 2011. "Origins of the Unemployment Rate: The Lasting Legacy of Measurement without Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(3), pages 552-557, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:101:y:2011:i:3:p:552-57

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Goldin, Claudia, 1992. "Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195072709.
    2. Clarence D. Long, 1942. "The Concept of Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 57(1), pages 1-30.
    3. Moen, Jon, 1987. "The Labor of Older Men: A Comment," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(03), pages 761-767, September.
    4. James, John A. & Thomas, Mark, 2003. "A Golden Age? Unemployment and the American Labor Market, 1880 1910," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(04), pages 959-994, December.
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    1. repec:ejw:journl:v:14:y:2017:i:1:p:121-132 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Pedro Carneiro & Sokbae Lee & Hugo Reis, 2015. "Please call me John: name choice and the assimilation of immigrants in the United States, 1900-1930," CeMMAP working papers CWP28/15, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    3. Kaloyan Ganev, 2014. "Early theories of business cycle and their role on the development of economics," Economic Thought journal, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences - Economic Research Institute, issue 3, pages 39-56.

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