WASHINGTON — Nearly 2 million Americans have dropped out of the work force since last May — and if they hadn’t, the unemployment rate would have risen a lot more dramatically over the last several months.
Either way, joblessness is quite high. The Labor Department said Friday the unemployment rate remained at 10 percent last month, the same as in November and just below the 10.1 percent rate reached in October. The October figure, which was revised down from 10.2 percent, was the highest in 26 years.
Employers cut 85,000 jobs last month, but hiring and firing isn’t the only thing that affects the unemployment rate. Also important is the overall size of the labor force, which is the number of people working and actively looking for work.
The unemployed who aren’t searching for jobs — either because they’re discouraged or because they’re returning to school or caring for a family member, among other reasons — aren’t included in the labor force and aren’t counted in the unemployment rate.
Since May, the labor force has dropped to 153.1 million from nearly 155 million, a 1.2 percent decline. More than 660,000 people exited in December, the most in any single month in 14 years.
Had all those people remained in the work force and hunted for jobs, the December unemployment rate would have been 11 percent instead.
What worries economists is that many of those people are likely to resume job hunting if the economy continues to pick up. That could boost the jobless rate to 10.5 percent or higher, even if the economy improves and employers start hiring again.
Here, by the numbers, are some more details you can find deep in the employment report.From red to black and back again
Where the jobs are
46,500: The number of temporary jobs added in December
9,900: Jobs added in financial services and insurance
10,800: Jobs added in education
21,500: Jobs added in hospitals, nursing and other health care sectors
4,000: Jobs added in architectural and engineering services
3,400: Jobs added in computer services
9.2 million: Number of part-time workers who would have preferred full-time work last month
2.5 million: People without jobs who want to work but have stopped looking
17.3 percent: “Underemployment’’ rate in December if you include the above two categories
17.4 percent: Underemployment rate in October, the highest in records dating to 1994
December unemployment rate by group
13 percent: Female heads of households
8.4 percent: Asians
9 percent: Whites
12.9 percent: Hispanics
16.2 percent: Blacks
27.1 percent: Teenagers
(Christopher S. Rugaber is an AP Economics Writer)