What does 2.9% unemployment mean?

3%As the Statesman headline shows, the unemployment in Austin has dropped below 3%. That’s lower than it’s been since the dot-com heydays of the late ’90s.

“It’s an amazing streak we’re on. As of March, we’d experienced 44 consecutive months of year-over-year total non-farm job growth of percent or better. We haven’t seen a run like that since the late 1990s, and no other large metro economy in the country is anywhere close to that figure.” said Brian Kelsey, an Austin-based economist with Civic Analytics.

Even for Austin, this is good news. But just how good is it?

According to Chris Farrell of Bloomberg Businessweek, 3% unemployment is considered full employment, but the “conventional wisdom that says such a low unemployment rate policy isn’t feasible because of inflation.” Still, our country hit that mark three times in the 20th Century:

Full employment was once defined as somewhere between 1 percent and 2 percent, a figure that reflects the normal ebb and flow of the workforce as people leave jobs seeking better opportunities. In the U.S. a full-employment economy more realistically is closer to the 3 percent to 4 percent mark, a level reached only a handful of times during the past half-century, in the 1950s, the latter part of the 60s and during the heady years of the dot.com boom in the 90s.

Even getting to 3% unemployment is something that the economy of the United States of America achieved only three times after World War II — and Austin just beat that number.

We’ve got challenges. We have an affordability crisis, and we are the most economically segregated metro area in the country. But we have an economy strong enough to fuel the changes we need to see. Wages are rising. Businesses are hiring.

An unemployment rate of 2.9% is worth celebrating.