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A posed photo of two white women and a black man in a suit.
  1. Social Security and Retirement
  2. Retirement Age and Social Security
  3. Working at Home
  4. Longer Years of Retirement
  5. Employment trends
  6. Foreign workers in the United States
  7. Mexican Workers in the United States
  8. Workplace Safety Standards
  9. Work-related Injuries and Deaths
  10. Growth of Large Corporate Farming
  11. Union Membership Across the United States
  12. Laws Regarding Working Women
  13. Labor Contracts in the United States
  14. Right-to-Work Laws
  15. Public worker unions in the United States
  16. Unemployment insurance
  17. Equal Opportunity Employment Laws
  18. Workers’ Compensation
  19. Minimum Age for Agricultural Employment
  20. Minors in the Workplace
  21. Minimum Wage
  22. Employment of Persons with Disabilities
  23. Major Equal Employment Legislation in the U.S.
  24. Employment in the Service Sector
  25. Unemployment
  26. State’s Unique Worker’s Compensation Laws
  27. Life on Unemployment
  28. Minimum Wage and Poverty
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A woman fills out forms for unemployment
A woman applies for unemployment after companies in her community moved jobs to Mexico.
Photo from Nubar Alexanian.
An unemployed person is someone who does not have a job but is looking for one. The unemployment rate is the percentage of unemployed persons compared to the total number in the workforce. When the economy is good and people are buying lots of consumer goods, companies hire more workers and the unemployment rate drops. Conversely, when there is a downturn in the economy, companies lay off workers and the unemployment rate rises. Since the 1950s, the unemployment rate in the United States has fluctuated. The lowest rate for this period was 2.9 percent in 1953, while the highest was at 9.6 percent in 1983. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, unemployment rates in the “rust belt”— those Midwestern and mid-Atlantic states that were industrial centers and home to the auto and steel industries—went up as the market for heavy manufacturing took a downward turn. For many companies, it was cheaper to build new plants in other parts of the United States, or even in foreign countries, than to update the older facilities. In the 1990s, the rust belt began an economic turnaround. States diversified their economies, the national economy improved, and the switch from a goods-based economy to a service-based economy continued.
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