As most pundits and economists have noted, the employment situation in the United States has improved substantially since just after the Great Recession when the official U-3 unemployment rate hit a peak of 10 percent. That said, recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows one employment measure that has had a significant negative impact on American households and family units.
Let's open with a definition. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics a family is:
"...a group of two or more persons residing together who are related by birth, marriage, or adoption. The count of families is for "primary" families only, that is, the householder and all other persons related to and residing with the householder. Families are classified either as married-couple families or as families maintained by women or men without spouses. Families include those without children as well as those with children under 18."
In its most recent Employment Characteristics of Families data release, BLS statistics show that there were 80.889 million families in the United States in 2014, up slightly from 80.445 million in 2013. Here is a breakdown of all American family units by ethnicity and race:
White - 64.476 million families - 79.7 percent of all families
Black or African American - 9.793 million families - 12.1 percent of all families
Asian - 4.374 million families - 5.4 percent of all families
Hispanic or Latino - 12.178 million families - 15.1 percent of all families
In 2014, there were 16.057 million families without an employed family member, down slightly from 16.127 million families in 2013.
Now, let's look at the percentage of American families have had no family member employed over the period from 2003 to 2014:
As you can see, during and just after the Great Recession, the percentage of all American families that had no family member employed grew significantly from 17.8 percent in 2008 to a peak of 20.2 percent in 2011, an increase of 2.4 percentage points or 13.5 percent. Since then, the percentage of all American families that had no employed family member has declined very slightly to 19.9 percent in 2014, a drop of only 0.3 percentage points or 1.5 percent. That is a rather insignificant decline in the percentage of American families with no employed member, particularly considering that the economy was more than five years into the post-Great Recession "recovery" during 2014.
In 2014, the percentage of families with no family member employed varied greatly by ethnic or racial background as shown on this bar graph:
By percentage, more than twice as many black families had no employed family member when compared to Asian families.
Here is a bar graph showing how the percentage of families with no employed family of each ethnic and racial group has varied since 2003:
Here are the minimums and maximums and current percentage for each ethnic and racial group and the year that the minimum and maximum occurred:
- minimum 17.4 percent in 2007
- maximum 20.2 percent in 2011
- current 19.9 percent
- minimum 21.1 percent in 2007
- maximum 25.8 percent in 2011
- current 23.6 percent
- minimum 10.1 percent in 2006
- maximum 12.7 percent in 2010
- current 11.5 percent
- minimum 12.4 percent in 2007
- maximum 15.8 percent in 2010 and 2011
- current 14.1 percent
It is also interesting to note that the percentage of households with no family member employed varies greatly by the gender of the head of the household. In 2014, 25.6 percent of households that were maintained by a woman had no employed family member and 17 percent of households that were maintained by a man had no employed family member. As well, both the husband and wife were employed in 47.7 percent of married-couple families.
It is rather surprising to see that more than 16 million American families have no one in the workforce and that the percentage of households with no family member working has changed little since the end of the Great Recession unemployment crisis. Some of this can be attributed to the BLS definition of "unemployed" since, by definition, unemployed persons are those that are actively seeking a job. It does not include those that do not have a job and are not actively seeking one (i.e. discouraged workers). That said, this data shows us that there are still an elevated percentage of American households that have seen little to cheer about during this inter-recessional economic expansion.