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U.S. Unemployment Edges Down in Mid-May

U.S. Unemployment Edges Down in Mid-May

by Dennis Jacobe

PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, declined slightly to 8.2% in mid-May from 8.3% in April. Gallup's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.5% in mid-May, down slightly from 8.6% last month.

Gallup Adjusted and Unadjusted Unemployment Rate Trend, January 2011-Mid-May 2012

These results are based on Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted over the 30 days of April 16 to May 15, including interviews with 30,236 U.S. adults, 67.5% of whom are active in the workforce. Gallup's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate incorporates the adjustment used by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the same month of the previous year.

On an unadjusted basis, the mid-May unemployment rate, if sustained the rest of the month, would represent a new monthly low in unemployment since Gallup began tracking it daily in January 2010, down from the previous low of 8.3% recorded last month and from 9.2% last May.

Incorporating the upward seasonal adjustment of 0.3 percentage points that the BLS applied last May yields a seasonally adjusted rate for mid-May of 8.5%. This is substantially higher than the seasonally adjusted monthly low of 7.9% for Gallup's U.S. unemployment rate in January of this year, but significantly lower than the 9.5% in May 2011.

Percentage Working Part Time but Wanting Full-Time Work Down Slightly From April

The percentage of U.S. workers working part time but looking for full-time work is 9.8% in mid-May on an unadjusted basis, compared with 9.9% in April. This is down from 10.0% last May.

Percentage of U.S. Workers Working Part Time but Wanting Full-Time Work,\nMonthly Averages, January 2011-Mid-May 2012

Underemployment Down

Gallup's U.S. underemployment measure, which combines the unemployed with those working part time but looking for full-time work, is 18.0% in mid-May, compared with 18.2% in April. The underemployment rate declined to as low as 18.0% last July but changed direction in August. It increased to 19.1% in February before plunging to 18.0% in March and 18.2% last month.

Gallup's U.S. Underemployment Rate, Monthly Averages, January 2011-Mid-May 2012


The slight decline in Gallup's unadjusted unemployment rate to a new low of 8.2% in mid-May from April's 8.3% and March's 8.4% seems consistent with the slow growth of the U.S. economy so far this year. Much of this decline may be due to a decline in the workforce participation rate -- Americans 18 years or older who have a job or are actively looking for work -- which fell to 67.5% in mid-May from 67.8% in March. As people get discouraged and drop out of the workforce, the unemployment rate tends to decline.

Further, companies tend to increase their hiring during April and May. However, this year's slow economic growth and some extra hiring earlier this year may have employers holding back to some degree from their normal hiring increases. Last year, Gallup's unadjusted unemployment rate fell to 9.2% in May from 9.9% in March. This decrease, typical in the spring, is why the government adjusts the unemployment rate upward for seasonal factors in both April and May.

Gallup's unemployment measurements now and in April stand in sharp contrast to those the government provided. The BLS reported an April unadjusted unemployment rate of 7.7% and an adjusted unemployment rate of 8.1%. These findings were generally seen as inconsistent with the state of the economy and the findings of the BLS payroll survey. There were not enough jobs created last month -- even after the size of the workforce declined -- to lower the unemployment rate as much as the government reported.

It is possible that the government's unemployment numbers for May could revert back to the Gallup trend, as occurred in March and during much of late 2011. Still, there was a considerable gap between Gallup's results and those of the government in February and April. Regardless, Gallup's preliminary unemployment numbers for May, based on continuous daily measurement, show a slight improvement compared with April.

How Gallup's Unemployment Measure Differs From the U.S. Government's Measure reports results from these indexes in daily, weekly, and monthly averages and in stories. Complete trend data are always available to view and export in the following charts:

Daily: Employment, Economic Confidence, Job Creation, Consumer Spending
Weekly: Employment, Economic Confidence, Job Creation, Consumer Spending

Read more about Gallup's economic measures.

View our economic release schedule.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking from April 16-May 15, 2012, with a random sample of 30,236 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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