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Measuring Labor-Force Participation and the Incidence and Duration of Unemployment

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  • Hie Joo Ahn
  • James D. Hamilton

Abstract

The underlying data from which the U.S. unemployment rate, labor-force participation rate, and duration of unemployment are calculated contain numerous internal contradictions. This paper catalogs these inconsistencies and proposes a unified reconciliation. We find that the usual statistics understate the unemployment rate and the labor-force participation rate by about two percentage points on average and that the bias in the latter has increased over time. The BLS estimate of the average duration of unemployment substantially overstates the true duration of uninterrupted spells of unemployment and misrepresents what happened to average durations during the Great Recession and its recovery.

Suggested Citation

  • Hie Joo Ahn & James D. Hamilton, 2020. "Measuring Labor-Force Participation and the Incidence and Duration of Unemployment," NBER Working Papers 27394, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:27394
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E24 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital; Aggregate Labor Productivity
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search

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