Losing a job can be the most “distressing economic event” in a person’s life. Most people rely on their labor earnings to maintain their standard of living, and many people get from their work not only income but also a sense of personal accomplishment. A job loss means a lower living standard in the present, anxiety about the future, and reduced self-esteem. It is not surprising, therefore, that politicians campaigning for office often speak about how their proposed policies will help create jobs. In previous chapters, we have seen some of the forces that determine the level and growth of a country’s standard of living. A country that saves and invests a high fraction of its income, for instance, enjoys more rapid growth in its capital stock and its GDP than a similar country that saves end invests less. An even more obvious determinant of a country’s standard of living is the amount of unemployment it typically experiences. People who would like to work but cannot find a job are not contributing to the economy’s production of goods and services. Although some degree of unemployment is inevitable in a complex economy with thousands of firms and millions of workers, the amount of unemployment varies substantially over time and across countries. When a country keeps its workers as fully employed as possible, it achieves a higher level of GDP than it would if it left many of its workers standing idle. This chapter begins our study of unemployment. The problem of unemployment is usefully divided into two categories: the long-run problem and the short-run problem. The economy’s natural rate of unemployment refers to the amount of unemployment that the economy normally experiences. Cyclical unemployment refers to the year-to-year fluctuations in unemployment around its natural rate, and it is closely associated with the short-run ups’ and downs of economic activity. Cyclical unemployment has its own explanation, which we defer until we study short-run economic fluctuations later in this book. In this chapter, we discuss the determinants of an economy’s natural rate of unemployment. As we will see the designation natural does not imply that this rate of unemployment is desirable. Nor does it imply that it is constant over time or impervious to economic policy. It merely means that this unemployment does not go away on I.ts own even 1. 0 the long run We begin the chapter by looking at some of the relevant facts that describe unemployment. In particular, we examine three questions: How does the government measure the economy rate of unemployment? What problems arise in interpreting the unemployment data? How long are the unemployed typically without work.
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