From the Comments: the Unemployment Rate

Dr. Gibson has won the much-cherished gold star I had offered in a previous comment. My question had to do with the green dot in this graph, and Dr. Gibson explained it to perfection. He writes:

The widely followed U3 unemployment rate, as shown in the figure, is the number of unemployed divided by the labor force. The labor force excludes discouraged workers. The labor force participation rate is the labor force size (employed & unemployed) divided by the population. The green dot shows what the U3 rate would be if that ratio had stayed the same since Jan. 2009.

The U6 statistic counts discouraged workers as unemployed. That rate is currently around 15%.

See also: Unemployment: What It Is

From the article Dr. Gibson directs us towards comes some other important information:

Government policies contribute to unemployment above and beyond natural unemployment. The most notorious of these policies are minimum wage laws. These laws make it illegal, effectively, for low-skilled workers to accept employment. Anyone who cannot generate $8 worth of production per hour cannot expect to be paid more than $8. Such unfortunate people might be productive at $6 per hour but are forbidden to accept employment at this rate and are instead condemned to joblessness and all its attendant miseries. This burden falls most heavily on black teenagers, whose unemployment rate (based on those seeking work and excluding those who are in school) is well over 40 percent. The benefits accrue mainly to slightly higher-skilled workers, who have climbed onto the metaphorical ladder leading to better jobs and who are shielded from competition from those excluded by minimum-wage laws [...]

Labor unions, as voluntary associations bargaining freely with employers, are unobjectionable. They did a lot of good in the past when working conditions in many places were pretty bad. But now they are granted special privileges by law—basically the privilege to engage in violent or coercive activities. The result is often wage agreements that are above market-clearing levels. Those left out are of course unemployed.

While labor unions can boost their members’ compensation at the expense of non-union workers, higher wages generally and higher living standards are due mainly to increased productivity, which in turn depends on high levels of capital investment. People are more willing to save and invest when they have confidence in the future, and that confidence comes from respect for property rights.

For more on minimum wage laws, see Bad Idea of the Year.

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