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Unemployment Rates 1890-2012

High School Test Scores in 8 Subjects

Test score trends are discouraging for high school students in 8 subjects, some tracked for 4 decades. Since consistent national tests are only sporadically conducted for adults, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests of 17-year-olds and seniors are one of the best sources on the skills and knowledge that adults likely possess.  The U.S. Employment and Training Administration has assembled NAEP 1969-2012 tests results for high school students in reading and writing; math and science; and history, economics, civics, and geography.

For the full analysis, see High School Test Scores in 8 Subjects.

Due to changing test content, it’s only possible to compare results from any point in the past until the near-present in 6 of the 8 subjects: math, reading, history, civics, geography, and economics (for science and writing, recent comparisons can only be made for 1996-2005 and 1998-2007, respectively). Among the 8 subjects, only 2 (U.S. history and writing) show statistically-significant rising test scores over a recent period of comparable data — and these increases have been tiny. Moreover, writing trends for the preceding period (1984-94) show a decline, suggesting that the long-term trend is not positive. Math, reading, and economics show no trend toward improvement, and science, geography and civics show declines (only statistically significant for science and geography, although longer-term results suggest a large, significant drop in civics performance over the 1969-2010 period). Unfortunately NAEP discontinued its three-decade science trend tests after 1999, during which a relatively large decline occurred.

ETA’s analysis includes the precise test scores and years of comparable data for each subject; which changes have been statistically significant; and Internet links to the underlying studies.


High School Coursework Over 3 Decades


High school graduates have taken more courses, and more demanding courses, over a nearly 3-decade span since the early 1980s, according to an analysis by the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.  The increases have been very large, but paradoxically haven’t boosted test scores.  See High School Coursework Over Three Decades. To our knowledge, such a broad overview of this subject is available nowhere else but here. For a more detailed review of career and technical education, see Secondary Career Coursetaking Declines


More Coursework

The average high school graduate in 2009 (the latest available data) garnered 27.2 credits, up 5.4 from 21.8 in 1982 (one credit means a full year course).  Compared with 1982's courseload, this represents a full extra year of schooling.  Every academic subject has experienced gains, with the largest credit increases occurring in science (2.2 to 3.5); math (2.6 to 3.9); foreign languages (1.1 to 2.3); and social studies (3.2 to 4.2).  Only work-related courses experienced no increases, with vocationally-specific courses unchanged, while general career guidance courses plummeted from 1.0 to only .3 credits.


Math and Science Courses

Trends in the proportion of graduates who took selected courses show remarkable growth in algebra, geometry, chemistry and physics, but significant increases also occurred in the social sciences.  In math, only trigonometry exhibited no clear trend.  The highest math increases occurred in algebra 1 (55 to 69 percent of graduates) and algebra 2 (40 to 76 percent); geometry (47 to 88 percent); and pre-calculus (6 to 35 percent) and calculus (5 to 16 percent).  All science and engineering courses significantly grew, most notably in chemistry (32 to 70 percent); physics (15 to 36 percent); and biology (77 to 96 percent) — and the proportion that took all three rose from 11 to 30 percent. 


Social Science Courses

Among the social sciences (for which data only begin with 1990), only world geography exhibited no clear trend.  World history (60 to 86 percent), economics (49 to 59 percent), and civics (79 to 86 percent) grew the most, although in the last two cases all of the increase occurred after 2005. 


Background and Related Information

Although high schools routinely maintain transcripts, these are only sporadically collected and systematically classified by researchers.  As shown in the table, for most subjects the first year of comparable data is 1982, although foreign language enrollment (not course completion) data are available for selected years since 1948.  In the post-World War II period, foreign language enrollment rose in the 1950s and 1960s, then fell in the 1970s before rising again in the 1980s (and continues its rise through the most recent data).


For a study using data from a different source, but which reached the same conclusions, see High School Students Taking More Demanding Courses.


We review the trends on homework/study time (for both high school and college students) in NOT Hitting the Books — Limited Homework and Studying Time in High School and College.  


For test score trends, see High School Test Scores in 8 Subjects.

Unemployment Rates 1890-2012

Real-Time Employment and Job Vacancy Data Repository

Because of the importance and growing use of real-time employment and job vacancy data, ETA has compiled a repository to better enable you to find, understand, and use this information. 

Real-time labor market information (LMI) is based on analyses of Internet-based job ads and other employment information, e.g., resumes. Job vacancy surveys identify job openings (synonymous with job vacancies) via employer surveys. Although the two sources do not always coincide, they help answer how well the number of job openings (i.e., employer demand for labor) matches the supply of unemployed job seekers. Job vacancies or job ads are used to count job openings, by geographic area and by industry and/or occupation. Supply is usually measured by BLS data from the Current Population Survey. These sources are used for other purposes, but labor supply vs. demand is one of the most common and important uses.

Real-time employment analyses aggregate job ads using daily Web spidering, screen-scraping, and/or indexing of job ad Web sites. Once organized into a database, this information can be analyzed to provide insights about employer needs and demands concerning skills/competencies, credentials, educational attainment, previous employment experience, and the wages offered. Such information can also be used to identify emerging occupations.

Employment, training and education programs can in turn use these results to improve their programs, and to better advise individuals make making immediate job hunting and long-term career decisions.

The sources listed are primarily at the national level, but ETA will also issue a compendium of state-specific resources.  The inclusion of private-sector or .com Web sites is for informational purposes only. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) implies or confers no endorsement on a company or on a specific product or service. Readers and information users should exercise an appropriate level of care and should be aware that the private-sector products and/or services may be copyrighted.

The main site for the repository is at Real-Time LMI Repository.

The entire repository can also be found at the Real-Time LMI Repository Guide.

A Working Paper from the


Concerns that there are problems with the supply of skills, especially education-related skills, in the
US labor force have exploded in recent years with a series of reports from employer-associated organizations but also from independent and even government sources making similar claims.  These complaints about skills are driving much of the debate around labor force and education policy, yet they have not been examined carefully. 

Mr. Cappelli examines the range of these charges as well as other evidence about skills in the labor force. The paper suggest that there is very little evidence consistent with the complaints about skills and a wide range of evidence suggesting that they are not true.  The research paper considers three possible explanations for the employer complaints as well as the implications associated with those changes.

Peter Cappelli  from the Wharton School
Center for Human Resources
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6358
and NBER

Working Paper 20382

2015 Labor Surplus Area List Issued


The U.S. Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) has issued the list of 2015 labor surplus area (LSA) list.  A labor surplus area is a statutorily-defined locality that (with some exceptions) has experienced an unemployment rate that is 20% higher than the national average for 2 years.  Some Federal, state and local programs use LSA designations to determine eligibility, so your state or locality may be able to benefit from understanding whether areas qualify as an LSA.  ETA designates LSA's annually (effective each October 1st), with periodic updates to designate additional LSA's for areas that qualify under special circumstances.


The Federal Register Notice announcing the 2014 LSA designations was published on September 16, 2014,  and is effective from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015. Click here for the PDF version of the FRN. The actual LSA listing, a map of LSAs and other related information (including the guidelines for previous years) can be found at FY 2015 Labor Surplus Area List. 

The 2015 LSA list includes areas in 42 states and Puerto Rico.  The reference period used in preparing the LSA list was January 2012 through December 2013. The national average unemployment rate (including Puerto Rico) during this period was rounded to 7.77 percent. Twenty percent higher than the national unemployment rate is rounded to 9.32 percent. This is the first time since 2011 that the qualifying LSA rate is below the ceiling unemployment rate (10%).  

If an area did not make this year's LSA list and is currently experiencing an unemployment rate at or above the qualifying unemployment rate, it may be eligible to be added to this year's LSA list through an exceptional circumstance petition. For more information about the classification process and exceptional circumstance petition, see "Description of Labor Surplus Areas".

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