Employment Statistics Provide a Basis for Monitoring Social Change

PAD-78-30: Published: Mar 20, 1978. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 1983.

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Employment statistics, especially the unemployment rate and the number of persons employed, are useful measures of economic well-being and satisfy most definitions of social indicators. The unemployment rate, that proportion of the labor force that is unemployed, is commonly used as an indicator of labor force utilization, economic hardship, and social stress. However, the unemployment rate measures only specific things and does not answer questions about employment opportunities and employment experiences.

As unemployment is now defined, changes can occur in utilization, economic hardship, and social stress which are not captured in the indicator, and the indicator can fluctuate for reasons which have little direct relationship to the underlying social well-being. In addition, the unemployment rate says nothing about the quality of a job. The products of the employment and unemployment statistics program meet many criteria of good social indicators: (1) they are derived from national surveys having extensive and representative coverage of the population; (2) the definitions and methodology are uniformly applied; and (3) the methods have been worked out through examination and scientific and statistical testing. Other statistics are available from government and private sources which can fill most of the gaps in information that would result from using the unemployment data alone.

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