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Working Paper

The Ins and Outs of Unemployment in the Long Run: Unemployment Flows and the Natural Rate

This paper proposes an empirical method for estimating a long-run trend for the unemployment rate that is grounded in the modern theory of unemployment. I write down an unobserved-components model and identify the cyclical and trend components of the underlying unemployment flows, which in turn imply a time-varying estimate of the unemployment trend, the natural rate. I identify a sharp decline in the outflow rate—the job finding rate—since 2000, which was partly offset by the secular decline in the inflow rate—the separation rate—since the 1980s, implying a relatively stable natural rate, currently at 6 percent. Numerical examples show that slower labor reallocation, along with the weak output growth, explains most of the persistence in unemployment since the Great Recession. Contrary to the business-cycle movements of the unemployment rate, a significant fraction of the low-frequency variation can be accounted for by changes in the trend of the inflows, especially prior to 1985. Finally, I highlight several desirable features of this natural rate concept that makes it a better measure than traditional counterparts. These include statistical precision, the significance of required revisions to past estimates with subsequent data additions, policy relevance and its tight link with the theory.

Working Papers of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland are preliminary materials circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment on research in progress. They may not have been subject to the formal editorial review accorded official Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland publications. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland or the Federal Reserve System.

Note: An earlier, substantially different working paper version of this work circulated with the title: “The Ins and Outs of Unemployment in the Long Run: A New Estimate for the Natural Rate?”

Suggested Citation

Tasci, Murat. 2012. “The Ins and Outs of Unemployment in the Long Run: Unemployment Flows and the Natural Rate.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper No. 12-24.