Percentage of population ages 16 and older unemployed but seeking work.

The 2022 County Health Rankings used data from 2020 for this measure.

Reason for Ranking

The unemployed population experiences worse health and higher mortality rates than the employed population.[1-4] Unemployment has been shown to lead to an increase in unhealthy behaviors related to alcohol and tobacco consumption, diet, exercise, and other health-related behaviors, which in turn can lead to increased risk for disease or mortality, especially suicide.[5] Because employer-sponsored health insurance is the most common source of health insurance coverage, unemployment can also limit access to health care.

Key Measure Methods

Unemployment is a percentage

Unemployment is the percentage of the county’s civilian labor force, ages 16 and older, that is unemployed but seeking work.

Unemployment is created using statistical modeling

Unemployment estimates are created using modeled data from the Current Population Survey, Current Employment Statistics, and the Unemployment Insurance system. Modeling generates more stable estimates for places with small numbers of residents or survey responses. There are also drawbacks to using modeled data. The smaller the population or sample size of a county, the more the estimates are derived from the model itself and the less they are based on survey responses. Models make statistical assumptions about relationships that may not hold in all cases. Finally, there is no perfect model and each model generally has limitations specific to their methods. For more technical information on the Bureau of Employment Statistics' modeling please see their methodology.

Measure limitations

This measure does not count individuals who want work but who have given up seeking work (discouraged workers) as officially unemployed.[5] Furthermore, there is no unemployment measure that reliably discerns the unemployed who cannot find work at their preferred wage level from those who cannot find work at any wage.[3]


The numerator is the total number of people in the civilian labor force, ages 16 and older, who are unemployed but seeking work. Unemployed persons are defined as persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.


The denominator is the total number of people in the civilian labor force, ages 16 and older. The civilian labor force includes all persons in the civilian noninstitutional population classified as either employed or unemployed. Employed persons are all persons who, during the reference week (the week including the 12th day of the month), (a) did any work as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of their family, or (b) were not working but who had jobs from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job.

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

This measure could be used to track progress with some caveats. Modeled estimates have specific drawbacks with regard to their usefulness in tracking progress in communities. Modeled data are not particularly good at incorporating the effects of local conditions, such as health promotion policies or unique population characteristics, into their estimates. Counties trying to measure the effects of programs and policies on the data should use great caution when using modeled estimates. In order to better understand and validate modeled estimates, confirming this data with additional sources of data at the local level is particularly valuable.

Data Source

Years of Data Used


Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics produces monthly and annual employment, unemployment, and labor force data for Census regions and divisions, states, counties, metropolitan areas, and many cities by place of residence. The LAUS estimates are consistent with the national labor force and unemployment measures from the Current Population Survey. A number of different methods are used to produce these estimates, including: (1) a signal-plus-noise time-series model for states, the District of Columbia, and some substate areas; (2) a building block approach referred to as the Handbook procedure for labor market areas; and (3) disaggregation procedures for many counties and virtually all cities.

Digging Deeper
Subcounty Area1

You can find data on unemployed workers by gender, race, and educational attainment, as well as by zip code, census tract, and census block, on Community Commons.


[1] Egerter S, Braveman P, Sadegh-Nobari T, Grossman-Kahn R, Dekker M. Education Matters for Health. Princeton, NJ: RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America; 2009. Issue Brief 6.
[2] Bartley M, Plewis I. Accumulated labour market disadvantage and limiting long-term illness: Data from the 1971-1991 Office for National Statistics' Longitudinal Study. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2002; 31:336-341.
[3] Strully KW. Job Loss and Health in the U.S. Labor Market. Demography. 2009; 46(2):221-246.
[4] Crabtree S. In U.S., Depression Rates Higher for Long-Term Unemployed. GALLUP News: Well-Being. 2014. 
[5] Dooley D, Fielding J, Levi L. Health and unemployment. Annual Review of Public Health. 1996; 17:449-465.

See how this component fits into our model
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When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.

Support acquisition of job-specific skills through education, certification programs, or on-the-job training, often with personal development resources and other supports
Offer employees control over an aspect of their schedule through arrangements such as flex time, flex hours, compressed work weeks, or self-scheduled shift work
Provide employees with paid time off for circumstances such as a recent birth or adoption, a parent or spouse with a serious medical condition, or a sick child

The County Health Rankings provide a snapshot of a community’s health and a starting point for investigating and discussing ways to improve health. Select a state and a measure below to see what’s happening locally.