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January jobs report: What is the lowest unemployment rate in US history?

The unemployment rate has fallen to a 54-year low of 3.4%. When was the last time there was a higher proportion of the population in work?

Unemployment rate falls to historic low

The United States economy has begun 2023 on the strongest of terms after a stunning January jobs report that exceeded experts’ predictions. The Labor Department confirmed on Friday that nonfarm payroll jobs had increased by 517,000; nearly trebling the Dow Jones’ estimate of 187,000.

This huge gain has pushed down the rate of unemployment to a 54-year low of 3.4%. This also beat estimates of a 3.6% rate.

Unemployment soared to 14% at the start of the pandemic as the country’s economy was forced to shut down for months. Getting Americans back to work has been a cornerstone of President Biden’s mission in the Oval Office and today’s news saw the unemployment rate fall to the lowest level seen since May 1969.

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When was the unemployment rate lower?

May 1969 marked the end of a nine-month run where the unemployment rate remained at 3.4%, the same figure recorded last month. Before that you would have to go back to October 1953, when it stood at 3.1%, to find lower unemployment rate in the US.

That came at the peak of a prosperous post-war period in the United States as the economy grew rapidly after been unshackled from the restrictions of wartime. From late 1952 to September 1953, unemployment was below 3%.

The unique post-war context of this period made it unlike anything seen in modern American history. In the 77-year database of unemployment data kept by the Bureau of National Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate of 2.5% seen in June and July 1953 remains the lowest on record.

The BLS only began collecting employment data on a monthly basis from the early 1940s but the wartime context made the early years difficult to quantify.

President Biden was understandably buoyed by Friday’s report and gave a brief White House press conference to celebrate the progress made in his two years in the White House.

He told reporters: “Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the Union. But today — today, I’m happy to report that the state of the Union and the state of our economy is strong.”

We learned this morning that the economy has created 517,000 jobs just last month — more than half a million jobs in just the month of January.”