Unemployment in the U.S. was at 3.5% as of February 2020. It was the lowest rate in the last ten years and shows the nation is recovering from the financial crisis of 2008. By way of comparison, historical research shows the average U.S. annual unemployment rate from 1949 through 2019 was 5.8%.
Lowest Unemployment Rates
Below are unemployment rates taken from various government sources. They have been updated with the most recent data as of 2019. Remember that part-time workers are counted as employed, and that the figures don't count people who give up looking for work for an extended period of time.
Although covering a diverse area, the above countries have stunning unemployment rates—from 0.1% to 2.0%—and all best the U.S. by a considerable margin.
Highest Unemployment Rates
Predictably, the world's highest unemployment rates exist in Sub-Saharan Africa and in a brutal warzone in occupied Palestine.
- Lesotho: 28.2%
- Occupied Palestinian Territories: 26.4%
- Eswatini: 26.5%
- Mozambique: 24.8%
Lesotho, encircled by South Africa, had one of the highest unemployment rates in the world in 2019. It's also one of the poorest countries. The World Bank estimated its GDP per capita at only $1,299 in 2018. Lesotho is a small and mountainous country, previously a protectorate of Britain (declared its independence in 1966). The unemployment rate has remained high above 20%, along with extreme income inequality and poverty.
Eswatini and Mozambique both suffer from extreme poverty and the world’s highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, according to the CIA. Productivity declines greatly due to HIV/AIDS as households lose manpower.
World's Largest Economies
The unemployment rates for the world's largest economies are predictably low, with some outliers like France, Brazil, and Italy (unemployment rates for 2019):
- United States: 4.1%
- China: 4.8%
- Japan: 2.4%
- Germany: 3.6%
- France: 8.6%
- United Kingdom: 3.9%
- India: 3.5%
- Brazil: 11.6%
- Italy: 10.4%
- Canada: 5.9%
Divergence with Economic Strength
Of course, having a low unemployment rate does not mean a country's economy is particularly strong. For instance, Myanmar had only 0.8% unemployment in 2019, but its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was $1,326, according to the World Bank.
Niger had 0.4% unemployment in 2019, but GDP per capita of $414, making it the poorest country on the list. Cambodia employed 99.7% of its workforce in 2019. Its GDP per capita was $1,510 in 2018, about $4 a day.
These countries have low unemployment figures in large part because their economies rely heavily on subsistence farming, which is labor-intensive but seasonal. Remember that the underemployed are still counted in employment figures. Even Thailand, with a relatively healthy GDP per capita of $7,274 employs over 30% of its workforce in agriculture.
Unemployment Parallel With a Rich Economy
Of course, it's possible to have low unemployment and a rich economy. This combination is seen in Qatar. According to the World Bank, GDP per capita in Qatar was $68,794 in 2018. That wealth helps their standing in the chart, as a country's unemployment rate only factors in those actively looking for work. If you're the 23-year-old child of wealthy parents, you may be more inclined to spend money than earn it.
Qatar's economy is driven by oil and natural gas, but it's been making a sustained push to diversify into financial services, manufacturing, construction, and news media.