This morning the Tennessean announced that the jobless rate in Nashville had dropped from 9.3% a year ago to 8.1% last month. That sounds good... actually that is good. But what exactly does that mean?
The Chamber of Commerce lists the adult workforce in Nashville at 787,389. Allowing for those commuting in from outside Nashville and undocumented/uncounted workers, let's just say that the total adult workforce in 850,000. Remember too that at any one time about 4% of the workforce is in transition; just moved here for their spouse's job, just had a baby and out of the workforce for awhile, just graduated and looking for that first job, etc... Historically Nashville's unemployment rate, even in boom times, is 4.5%.
So the real unemployment rate, that percentage of people who want a job and can't get one, is the difference between 8.1% and 4.5%, or about 30,000 people. That's still a large number but in a community of over a million people, its 3% of the population. Put another way, 97% of everyone in Nashville and surrounding counties who want a job has one.
This isn't to make light of the tragedy of long-term unemployment. About half of those unemployed nationwide have been so over a year. Just keep in mind when you hear the staggering figures about 15 million unemployed people that there is context behind those numbers and that, locally, we're recovering.