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The Endlessly Disappointing Jobs Recovery

Three years into the economic recovery, the unemployment rate is still disastrously high. So today's big economic question is whether the Federal Reserve will announce new measures to bring down unemployment when it releases its policy statement this afternoon.

Update: The new statement is out. The Fed isn't doing anything new right now.

Over the past few years, the unemployment rate has followed a pretty clear pattern: It goes down a little bit, and then it stalls. Then it goes down a little more, and then it stalls again. As a result, unemployment declines very, very slowly. Lately, the rate has been stalled at just over 8 percent.

When you look back over the Fed's big statements from the past few years, you see this pattern very clearly: The Fed keeps thinking the jobs picture is improving — and the jobs picture keeps being grim.

It happened in 2010.

June 2010. Unemployment rate: 9.4 percent. Fed statement:

...the labor market is improving gradually. ...

August 2010. Unemployment rate: 9.6 percent.

...the pace of recovery in ... employment has slowed in recent months.

It happened again in 2011. Unemployment had fallen from the previous year — but only a little, and the decline was partly due to people giving up on finding a job.

March 2011. Unemployment rate: 8.9 percent.

...overall conditions in the labor market appear to be improving gradually.

August 2011. Unemployment rate: 9.1 percent.

Indicators suggest a deterioration in overall labor market conditions in recent months, and the unemployment rate has moved up.

And it's happening again this year (and, again, some of the decline in the unemployment rate is due to people giving up and leaving the labor force, rather than people finding jobs).

March 2012. Unemployment rate: 8.2 percent.

Labor market conditions have improved further; the unemployment rate has declined notably in recent months but remains elevated.

June 2012. Unemployment rate: 8.2 percent.

...growth in employment has slowed in recent months, and the unemployment rate remains elevated

Update: Minimal change since June when it comes to discussing employment.

August 2012. July unemployment rate will be updated Friday.

Growth in employment has been slow in recent months, and the unemployment rate remains elevated.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jacob Goldstein is an NPR correspondent and co-host of the Planet Money podcast. He is the author of the book Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.
Theo Francis