Is USA's unemployment really that HUUUUUGE?

April 2, 2017

Filed under Data Viz


One of my new pastimes is to use the IMF's WEO data to validate the outlandish claims of the US president on almost every topic he can get his hands on.

The topic for today is US labor statistics. He had recently made a statement:

This is a staggering soundbyte, and quite a compelling number: 94 million! Out of the labor force! But the rhetoric is rather strategic, arguably masterfully crafted to deceive.

It is quite convenient to misconstrue "Out of the labor force" to mean "Unemployment", but they mean two different things.


I initially wanted to create an interactive data visualization to explain the differences in terminology, until I realized that the concept is better explained through a static infographic. I've never created one before, but I have ample experience in photoshop and came up with this:



Mr. Trump's statement is valid but misleading. Yes, over 90 million Americans are out of the labor force. This does not mean that they are unemployed. They are not even counted as part of the workforce! The real unemployment number is 15 million, which is quite comparable to its peers in the OECD, as I illustrate in the chart below.


Quick tip
The red bars denote unemployment. The gray bars denote the non-working age population, which is the economic term for people who are too old or too young to work. (Data is for the year 2014, from the latest OECD employment report.)