The US Labor Department announced yesterday that the unemployment rate rose to a 26-year high of 10.2% in October, an increase of 0.4 of a percentage point, even though the labor force contracted as well.

The graph below, courtesy of Chart of the Day, illustrates the unemployment rate since 1948 and provides some perspective on the current state of the labor market. As shown, Friday’s increase above the 10% level marks only the second time such a move has occurred during the post-World War II era.

Closer analysis of the chart indicates that the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator, peaking after the end of a recession. However, in the case of the previous two recessions the rate only peaked several quarters following an improvement in real GDP. Asha Bangalore (Northern Trust) said: “A similar case is projected for the current recovery. Our forecast is for the unemployment rate to peak in mid-2010. At the same time, real GDP should continue to advance during the final months of 2009 and all of 2010.


Source: Chart of the Day, November 6, 2009.

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