Unemployment is a foundational concept in economics that impacts workers and the overall economy every day. When workers don't have jobs, they cannot spend money earned from work and they don't produce value for the economy, both of which tend to be detrimental to economic growth. The terms "unemployment" and "joblessness" are often used interchangeably, but they sometimes mean different things.
Unemployment is often mistakenly believed to describe any person who does not have a job. In economics, unemployment actually describes workers who do not have jobs but who want jobs and are actively seeking jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that to be considered unemployed, a worker must have actively looked for worth within the past four weeks and be available for work. Workers who are laid off or who quit their jobs but do not seek a new job are not considered unemployed if they don't keep looking for work.
In most cases when you encounter the term "jobless" or "joblessness," the author probably means "unemployed" or "unemployment." In some instances, however, "jobless" may refer to other groups of people who do not have jobs but don't fit into the official definition of unemployed.
Discouraged workers are workers who do not have jobs but are not considered unemployed because they are not actively seeking employment. The term "joblessness" may include discouraged workers depending on the context in which it is used. For example, CNBC writer Jeff Cox suggests that the "real" jobless rate is significantly higher than the unemployment rate, since the unemployment rate does not take account of workers who have given up trying to find jobs and those who are not able to work as much as they would like.
Workers can potentially be unemployed without being fired or laid off. Some quit jobs to start families or to retire, and some are unemployed while working to start a second career. Workers who have completed education programs and are looking for jobs for the first time are also unemployed even if they're not counted in the statistics.
Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.