In a speech on the economy in August, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called the roughly 5% unemployment rate “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.”
He and his team like to cite much more expansive – and less mainstream – measures of unemployment than the standard includes. His senior economic adviser, David Malpass, said in a statement at the time that the overall unemployment rate was stuck at 9.7%, though on the campaign trail Trump also said he “heard unemployment was as high as 42%.”
The 9.7% figure refers to something called the U6 rate. This measure loops in part-time workers who want full-time jobs and unemployed people who have looked for a job in the past year (even if they have found one by the time they are surveyed). The 42% figure encompasses everyone who is at least 16 and not working, which includes retirees, students, and stay-at-home parents. Most economists believe that’s not an effective measure of unemployment.
The official US unemployment is called U3, and it stands at 4.9%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics updated that on October 7. The U3 rate, which includes only people who are not working but have actively looked for a job in the past month, has served as the most accepted measure since the 1930s.
The national unemployment rate has been declining since the start of the Obama administration. In October 2008, the U3 unemployment was 6.5%. It spiked to roughly 10% during the Great Recession and then recovered to its current rate, which many consider a healthy level.
Even the national U6 figures for unemployment – the one Trump often cites – have also declined steadily since 2010.
Nathan Yau of Flowing Data compiled unemployment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which gives a larger picture of what unemployment has looked like over time. He created an animated time-lapse map that shows regional changes in unemployment across the country from 1990 to 2016. Darker areas signify where unemployment is higher, while lighter areas are where unemployment is low.
When the recession hit in 2008, the map gets dramatically dark. But leading up to 2016, unemployment rates go down over time.
The visualization also shows that unemployment varies heavily by region.
As you can see, Middle America hasn’t been affected by unemployment as much as the coasts. Unemployment also doesn’t decrease as much in states like Ohio and Indiana. Trump has gained support in these areas by appealing to workers affected by the decline of manufacturing and the coal industry.
Nationally, the map features lower unemployment rates during the Clinton and Obama administrations, though the numbers are affected by more than just a president’s policies, such as the dot-com boom in the 1990s.
But no matter which metric you use, the national unemployment rate has been decreasing – steadily in some regions more than others – for years.