Monday, October 11, 2010

Real GDP Growth and the Unemployment Rate

by Bill McBride on 10/11/2010 12:33:00 PM

At the November FOMC meeting, the Fed will update their economic forecasts.

In June, the Fed forecast was for GDP growth of between 3.5% and 4.2% in 2011, with the unemployment rate falling to 8.3% to 8.7%. However since their forecasts were too optimistic for 2010, the unemployment rate would even be higher next year with the same growth forecast in 2011 (because the FOMC had expected the unemployment rate to fall further in 2010).

Real GDP and Unemployment Rate Click on graph for larger image.

Here is an update on a version of Okun's Law. This graph shows the annual change in real GDP (x-axis) vs. the annual change in the unemployment rate (y-axis).

Note: For this graph I used a rolling four quarter change - so all the data points are not independent. However - remember - this "law" is really just a guide.

Using this graph and the previous Fed forecasts for 2011 (3.5% to 4.2% GDP growth), we can estimate that the unemployment rate will be in the 9.0% to 9.4% range in a year (although the spread is pretty wide).

The following table summarizes several scenarios over the next year (starting from the current 9.6% unemployment rate):

Real GDP GrowthUnemployment Rate in One Year
0.0%11.0%
1.0%10.5%
2.0%10.0%
3.0%9.6%
4.0%9.1%
5.0%8.7%


I expected a sluggish recovery in 2010, so I thought the unemployment rate would stay elevated throughout 2010 (that was correct).

Going forward, I think the recovery will stay sluggish and choppy for some time and I'd guess the unemployment rate will tick up in the short term and still be above 9% later next year. You can see why those expecting 1% to 2% growth next year (like Goldman Sachs) are expecting the unemployment rate to be close to 10%.

Obviously higher growth rates would mean an even quicker decline in the unemployment rate, and a decline in real GDP would mean much higher unemployment rates.

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