The Atlantic

Full Employment: Are We There Yet?

There’s no economic consensus on whether or not the labor market has reached its full potential—or how to judge when it has.
Source: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ April jobs report showed that for just about a year straight, unemployment has remained under 5 percent. That’s laudable, considering the fact that unemployment surpassed 10 percent during the height of the recession. Now, some are saying the streak of low unemployment means that the country has reached a big post-recession goal: full employment, which many economists loosely define as the point where everyone who wants a job has one. This is, essentially, how economists ask whether this is as good as it gets for labor markets. But is America really there yet?

The answer to that question shapes the decision-making of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the body actually tasked with pursuing full employment and tweaking monetary policy to encourage it. The Fed hasn’t yet declared that the country is at full employment, but even if it doesn’t make a call

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