New Evidence on Cyclical and Structural Sources of Unemployment


Zinzhu Chen

Prakash Kannan

Prakash Loungani

Bharat Trehan

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2011-17 | May 1, 2011

We provide cross-country evidence on the relative importance of cyclical and structural factors in explaining unemployment, including the sharp rise in U.S. long-term unemployment during the Great Recession of 2007-09. About 75% of the forecast error variance of unemployment is accounted for by cyclical factors–real GDP changes (Okun’s law), monetary and fiscal policies, and the uncertainty effects emphasized by Bloom (2009). Structural factors, which we measure using the dispersion of industry-level stock returns, account for the remaining 25%. For U.S. long-term unemployment the split between cyclical and structural factors is closer to 60-40, including during the Great Recession.

Article Citation

Trehan, Bharat, Prakash Kannan, Prakash Loungani, and Zinzhu Chen. 2011. “New Evidence on Cyclical and Structural Sources of Unemployment,” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper 2011-17. Available at