The national unemployment rate now stands at 7.6 percent, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports the official employment rate, which represents the percentage of adults who have a job, is holding steady at 58.6 percent.

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So how can that be, and what does it mean?

"In terms of trying to interpret the economy, each of the metrics tell a different story and both measures are useful. It's difficult to say one measure is more important than the other," says Rutgers economist James Hughes.

He points out the employment rate is not improving because in decades past, the employment to population ratio increased because of greater participation by women in the labor force.

"The proportion of women in the labor force was increasing quite substantially in the 1970 to 2000 period, however since that point in time, that has leveled off."

Hughes says women are still participating very heavily in the labor force, it's just that their share is not growing anymore.

"You have the huge baby boom generation which swelling the number of 60-somethings, and the oldest boomer today is 67, so we are seeing an unprecedented wave of retirements, so that is depleting somewhat the number of employed."

As far as what this means for the economy, Hughes says "there is improvement, but we still have a long way to go."