Thursday, June 07, 2012

The real jobs picture

kw: employment

Many years ago, when the "official" level of unemployment was around 6%, I heard someone say, "Well, that means that 94% of people who want a job have one." An angry reply bounced back, "That number doesn't count those who have quit looking." I stayed out of the discussion. Both were right, but the second point was more telling.

There are six "unemployment" figures kept by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labeled U1 through U6. The only one you hear about is U3, which counts those actively seeking full time work, and nearly all of them are receiving "unemployment insurance" benefits. It doesn't count those who have stopped receiving benefits because their time ran out, and I have been unable to find out if it counts recent college graduates who are looking for work but are ineligible for benefits because they have not yet worked full time.

U6 counts everybody who would work if they could, including those who can't afford to send any more résumés, those working less than half time but who wish they could find full time work, and so forth. This is how the numbers look since they began to be collected in 1994. It is not a pretty picture! Prior to the recession of 2008-2010 (or so), U6 was usually 2-3% above U3. For most of the Obama presidency, however, U6 has consistently run 6% or greater above U3. Today's U3 figure is 8.2%, while U6 is 14.4%, a 6.2% difference.

That is discouraging. It is why I think the recession is still with us, and will remain with us until U6 falls below 10%. You can see an interactive chart for all the U-numbers at

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