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A Framework That Provides Clarity

During periods of “low visibility,” confusion reigns: for every indication of one trend, there seems to be a countertrend. The key is to glean from the collective wisdom of reliable leading indicators a clear signal that the economy is headed for a turn.

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Oct 05 2018

Not Your Grandpa’s Jobless Rate

The full version of this report was released to ECRI clients on Jun 20, 2018 -

The overall jobless rate is now the lowest in nearly half a century, but most don’t understand why. For college graduates, it’s the lowest in only 11 years, so the headline number exaggerates how tight the labor market is for them.



Today, over 34% of Americans are college graduates, more than triple their population share in 1969. Meanwhile, those without high school diplomas – who made up almost half the population in 1969 – are down to only a tenth of the population.

Because the jobless rate for college graduates is structurally much lower than for those who aren’t high school graduates – the difference typically being several percentage points – that pulls down the headline jobless rate, even though the job market for college graduates isn’t as tight as it was in the summer of 2006.

That’s notable because, while their wage share was already a quarter in 1969, it’s well over half today. But for those without high school diplomas, it’s under 4% now, so the huge plunge in their jobless rate since 2010 makes less of a difference to consumer spending.

Of course, it’s typical for the jobless rate to decline substantially in long expansions. But a key reason it’s so low today is the enormous increase in the proportion of college graduates over the decades.

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