Private Sector Estimates of Unemployment Rate and the Development of the Labor Force Concept

Gabriel Mathy, American University

Official national figures for unemployment, employment, and the labor force were formalized in the 1940’s and have been collected ever since by the U.S. government. As the Great Depression worsened in the 1930’s, many private-sector organizations came up with estimates of unemployment to gauge the scale of the crisis in the absence of official government figures This included labor unions, think tanks, business groups, and even President Roosevelt’s advisors, all of whom discussed their figures and disputed those of others. While these estimates are clearly inferior to modern labor force data, the process of discussion and comparison of different methods to adjust existing data was fruitful in the development of both the theory and practice of collecting labor force data. We outline the ways in which the discussion of various estimates contributed to the development of the office labor force concept. We then present the various private sector estimates and the method in which they were collected, as well as extending these estimates forward for comparison with the official government figures.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 135. Conceptualizing Economic Development