The unemployment rate was unchanged in May, staying put at 6.3 percent with 9.8 million Americans unemployed. Unemployment is the lowest it has been since September 2008. However, RealtyTrac's Octavio Nuiry makes the case that there is more to unemployment than percentages, and that a hidden actor is depressing housing market growth—and could cause more problems in the future.
Nuiry cites figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that reported 92 million Americans remain out of the labor force. "A whopping 920,090 people dropped out of the labor force in May, according to the data. What's alarming about these numbers is that each month, nearly 1 million Americans had given up on even looking for a job, wiping out January and February gains and a bit of March's job growth too," Nuiry writes.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment in a very specific way, with necessary conditions that must be met before a person is considered "unemployed." The BLS definition of "unemployed" is as follows: "People are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work." The functional word from BLS is "active." Passive activities, such as cruising the Internet job boards or attending job training, don't count, leaving many people that the average person would consider unemployed as not "unemployed enough" to count towards BLS statistics.
These workers—those out of the job market and not looking for work—are who concern Nuiry. He notes that declining unemployment figures don't point to a rebounding economy; rather, they point to workers who have given up looking, further shrinking the labor force and thus unemployment numbers.
"When President Obama took office in January 2009, the labor force participation rate—the share of the population that is working or looking for work—was 66 percent. In May 2014, that number hit a record low 62.8 percent—the lowest since 1978," Nuiry writes.
With fewer people working, economic ramifications ripple across the economy, especially in the housing market. The U.S. currently has 92 million men and women over the age of 16 who are not working—an all-time high. This is a sizable population who won't be purchasing a home any time soon.
Nuiry warns, "This is an employment crisis we have not seen in 30 years. With total employment at 145.8 million, for every three Americans over the age 16 earning a paycheck there are two who aren't even looking for a job … And adding 200,000 jobs a month while 1 million workers leave the job market is not a formula for healthy housing market."