Unemployment Statistics Can Be Read Many Ways; A Multitude of Factors Contributes to Who Is Labeled as Jobless

Article excerpt


When the national unemployment figures came out a few weeks ago, the news was that the rate had risen, from 9.7 to 9.9 percent for April.

Four years of steadily rising unemployment had been followed by several recent months of decrease or holding steady. Now it is up.

But, wait a minute, this increase was announced as good news. Close to 300,000 jobs had been created. And what that slight increase meant was that people who had given up looking for a job were now encouraged by the economy, and they were looking again - and driving up the "unemployed" number.

The national labor force, those actually available for work, grew by 805,000 people in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In other words, they didn't start to count as unemployed until they started looking for work. What gives?

Getting a good read on the unemployment situation is complicated by many issues: Those looking for work, those not looking, contract workers, part-time workers, underemployed. On top of that, the percent of working-age adults who don't consider themselves in the labor force had dropped by December to a 25-year low, though it's started to creep back up.

One thing is clear: The percentage of people out of work is always higher - much higher - than reported in the most often quoted numbers.

"First of all, the trouble with the federal government figures is that they're always trying to spin as they put them out," said Candace Moody, vice president of communications for WorkSource.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases six unemployment figures each month:

- U1: Percentage unemployed 15 weeks or longer as a percent of the civilian labor force.

- U2: Percentage of labor force who lost jobs or completed temporary work.

- U3: Unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force.

- U4: U3 plus "discouraged workers" who have stopped looking for work because they believe they won't find a job.

- U5: U4 plus other "marginally attached workers.

- U6: U5 plus part-time workers who want to work full time, but cannot.

In April, the figure for U6 was 17. …


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