U.S. Labor Market Performance in International Perspective: From 1960 to 2000, U.S. Unemployment Rates Improved from Relatively High to the Lowest among the G7 Countries; Canada and the United States Were Leaders in Job Creation, While Japan and Europe Had Much Weaker Employment Gains. (Labor Market Performance).(Statistical Data Included)

By Sorrentino, Constance; Moy, Joyanna | Monthly Labor Review, June 2002 | Go to article overview

U.S. Labor Market Performance in International Perspective: From 1960 to 2000, U.S. Unemployment Rates Improved from Relatively High to the Lowest among the G7 Countries; Canada and the United States Were Leaders in Job Creation, While Japan and Europe Had Much Weaker Employment Gains. (Labor Market Performance).(Statistical Data Included)


Sorrentino, Constance, Moy, Joyanna, Monthly Labor Review


For developed economies, monthly unemployment and employment changes are considered the two most informative labor market indicators, providing knowledge about the current performance of the labor market and the economy as a whole. International analyses often focus on these two key indicators as well, to compare the functioning of labor markets across countries. Researchers have attempted to explain the reasons for international differences and to glean lessons from the more "successful" countries that may be applied toward bringing down unemployment and stimulating job creation in the less successful ones. In fact, the first BLS international comparison of unemployment rates was initiated at the request of a 1961 Presidential Committee that was concerned about the apparently high U.S. unemployment rate compared with rates in Europe and Japan. The BLS program of comparative labor force statistics evolved from that initial study for the Committee, (1) and the data from that program permit a long-term international perspective on labor market outcomes.

Unemployment trends over the past 40 years clearly show divergent paths taken by the United States and Europe. From 1960 to 2000, the United States moved from the position of being a country with relatively high unemployment to a nation that attained the lowest jobless rate among the G7 major industrial countries (the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom). (2) By contrast, European unemployment rates moved in the opposite direction, from low to high, with the crossover occurring in the mid-1980s. While Europe and the United States were switching positions, Canada and Japan generally maintained their places in the international array: Canada's jobless rate was frequently the highest, and Japan's was almost always the lowest, during the 40-year period.

In contrast to unemployment statistics, relative employment trends were more consistent throughout the period. The United States and Canada generated the strongest job creation, while Japan and Europe had much weaker employment increases. The two North American countries' employment growth greatly surpassed their population growth, while Europe's and Japan's employment did not even keep pace with more slowly rising populations. Canada's job creation success contravened its relatively high unemployment rate over the four decades. (3) The United States had the best of both worlds: lower unemployment rates and high job creation.

This article examines U.S. trends and levels of unemployment, employment, and related statistics from 1960 to 2000, contrasting them with corresponding trends and levels from the other G7 countries. To facilitate comparisons, the European members of the G7 are often treated as a unit and referred to as "Europe (G4)" or simply "Europe." (4) When numerical growth rates and averages are given for Europe (G4), they are simple arithmetic averages of the respective figures for France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Most of the data presented are from the BLS program of international labor force comparisons, but several series are from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and one is from the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat). The box on page 16 summarizes additional adjustments made in the BLS database expressly for this article and presents some caveats about comparability of the OECD data on fulltime and part-time work.

The analysis begins with an investigation of overall comparative labor market performance, focusing on unemployment and employment trends over the past 40 years. This sets the stage for a deeper investigation of the comparative unemployment experiences of men, women, and youths. Data on the duration of unemployment illustrate a major difference in the nature of joblessness in the United States, compared with other countries. …

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U.S. Labor Market Performance in International Perspective: From 1960 to 2000, U.S. Unemployment Rates Improved from Relatively High to the Lowest among the G7 Countries; Canada and the United States Were Leaders in Job Creation, While Japan and Europe Had Much Weaker Employment Gains. (Labor Market Performance).(Statistical Data Included)
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