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Full Employment: Definition, Types, and Examples

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What’s full employment?

Full employment means using all labor resources efficiently, and this is the maximum number of skilled and unskilled workers in an economy.

Full employment is when everyone who wants to work can find a job, and unemployment is zero, which is unlikely. Instead of an observable economy, economic policymakers aim for it theoretically. Economists can define complete employment levels with low but non-zero unemployment.

Understanding Full Employment

In an economy with no involuntary unemployment, full employment is optimal. A fully productive economy produces at a point along its production possibilities frontier with full labor employment. Unemployment means the economy is not generating at its full capacity; economic efficiency may increase.

Full employment may be unattainable since it may be impossible to eradicate all unemployment. According to several economists, new definitions of full employment need some unemployment to moderate inflation and allow workers to switch occupations, study, or enhance their skills.1

Full employment is usually 5% unemployment. This unemployment reduces inflation and allows people to switch occupations, but those who desire full-time work should be able to find one, even if it’s not their favorite field.

Phillips Curve

Due to cyclical unemployment, many macroeconomic theories advocate full employment, which typically leads to inflation. Inflation and unemployment are central to monetarist and Keynesian views. The Phillips curve suggests that workers’ higher discretionary income causes this inflation.

This might cause problems for economic officials like the U.S. Federal Reserve, which must ensure stable prices and full employment.2 If the Phillips curve shows a trade-off between employment and inflation, full employment and price stability may not be attainable.

The Austrian School

Some economists argue against overachieving full employment, notably through monetary policy growth in money and credit. Austrian School economists say this will skew the banking and manufacturing sectors. This might cause a recession if actual resource restrictions clash with artificially inflated demand for capital goods and supplementary labor, increasing unemployment.

Types of Unemployment

Cyclical, structural, frictional, and institutional factors produce unemployment. Policymakers can reduce the root causes of each unemployment category, which may compromise other policy aims.


Encouragement of technical advancement can produce structural unemployment. When factory automation or AI makes workers redundant,


Economy-affecting institutional policies cause unemployment. These include government programs that promote social fairness, provide extensive safety net benefits, and labor market phenomena like unionization and discriminatory hiring.


Workers willingly changing jobs or joining the workforce may produce frictional unemployment, which policymakers cannot avoid. It involves job hunting, hiring, and matching the right candidate to the appropriate position.


The business cycle causes cyclical unemployment to grow and decline. Unemployment rises during recessions and decreases during growth.1 Therefore, a recession that causes cyclical unemployment cannot lead to full employment.

Phillips curve cycles. Full employment increases inflation, which raises unemployment, it says.

To achieve full employment, macroeconomic policymakers mainly reduce cyclical unemployment. In this instance, they may choose between growing inflation and economic distortion.

Economic cycles cause cyclical unemployment, unlike “seasonal unemployment,” which occurs year-round. Retail jobs usually decline after New Year’s, when the holiday shopping season finishes. When vacation workers are no longer needed, unemployment grows.

Types of Full Employment

Due to the complexity and questionability of full employment, economists have created more realistic economic policy goals.

Natural Rate

The natural rate of unemployment solely includes structural and frictional labor market unemployment. The natural rate approximates full employment while acknowledging that technological progress and labor market transaction costs will always cause some minor unemployment.

Non-accelerating inflation

The non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU) is compatible with low, steady price inflation. Economic policymakers that must balance full employment and stable pricing might utilize the NAIRU as an objective.

It’s not full employment, but it’s the closest the economy can go without raising salaries and prices. Full employment is usually the NAIRU for modern economists.1 As the Phillips curve suggests, the NAIRU makes sense theoretically and as a policy aim only when unemployment and inflation are steady.

Benefits of Full Employment

Full employment promotes people’s and a nation’s social and economic equilibrium. Achieving full employment has benefits:

  • Reduced poverty if all workers can earn higher wages.
  • Better salaries and working conditions for workers, as firms must
  • Preventing jobless people from losing motivation or skills
  • GDP growth as workers buy products and services
  • Government cuts to unemployment and welfare programs
  • Lower government borrowing due to more income tax receipts

Examples of Full Employment

Full-time work is ideal. No full employment exists. Countries want full employment and little unemployment.

Full employment occurs when a country’s unemployment is as low as possible without inflation or other economic issues. Real-world employment is frequently 95% or higher.

In 2021, Bahrain (1.9%), Benin (1.6%), Cuba (2.8%), Germany (3.5%), Japan (2.8%), Malta (3.5%), Mexico (4.4%), the Netherlands (4%), Norway (5%), Poland (3.4%), and Thailand (1.4%) will be fully

The January 2023 U.S. unemployment rate was 3.4%, one of the lowest since 1948. 1952 saw the lowest U.S. unemployment rate since 1948, at 2.7%. Three economists consider both rates to be full employment.

Unemployment numbers do not include persons who have stopped looking for work or work part-time but want full-time. Anyone could obtain a full-time job under genuine employment.


Which rate is full employment?

Economists consider 5% unemployment maximum employment, or as near to full employment as feasible in the actual world. Full employment is 95% or above.

How do I determine full employment?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines full employment in the U.S. as a rate of unemployment equal to the NAIRU, no cyclical unemployment, and a GDP at its potential.1 Many nations meet this criterion When unemployment is 5% or below.

At Full Employment, Why Is Unemployment?

Full employment and zero unemployment are different in practice. Some sorts of unemployment are required to prevent inflation, allow workers to switch occupations, or help people enhance their education or abilities. Changes in industries and firms affect employment availability, which benefits the economy even if it temporarily leaves certain workers jobless.

Bottom Line

Full employment means using all labor resources efficiently without inflation. In theory, anybody may find a full-time job, and unemployment is 0%.

Recent economists believe that some unemployment is essential to preventing inflation. Workers might also use temporary unemployment to switch occupations, go to school, or upgrade their abilities. In practice, full employment is 5% unemployment or less. These levels of unemployment avoid inflation and allow people to switch occupations, but they are low enough that full-time workers should be able to find work.


  • Full employment means using all labor resources efficiently.
  • Full employment is the maximum number of skilled and unskilled workers in an economy.
  • Based on their theory, economists set economic policy objectives for several sorts of total employment.
  • Many modern economists believe unemployment is essential to avert inflation and allow workers to switch occupations, study, or enhance their abilities.
  • Real-world full employment is frequently 5% unemployment or less.

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