the Obama administration operated on the assumption that the unemployment rate would reach 8.9 percent by the end of the year — without the extra federal spending. Three months into the year, the unemployment rate has already soared to 8.5 percent, from 7.6 percent, the highest level in more than a quarter-century.But, 8.5 percent feels low, right? I mean, doesn't it feel like the unemployment rate is a lot more than that? If you think so, there is a reason.
Here is how Daniel Gross explained it a few months ago:
Back in the 1990s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recognized that in a changing economy, in which outsourcing, self-employment, and contracting were becoming more commonplace, the traditional methods of measuring unemployment and job growth might not accurately portray the economic situation. And it knew its methodology had some quirks—the unemployment rate doesn't account for people who have given up looking for jobs, or who have taken themselves out of the work force. So since 1994, the BLS has been compiling alternative measures of labor underutilization. There are many different varieties of labor underutilization. There are marginally attached workers: "persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past." There are discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached crowd, who have "given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job." There are people who work part-time because they can't find—or their employer can't provide—full-time work. There are people who have left the work force entirely. Neither the unemployment rate nor the payroll jobs figure captures the plight of many of these folks.So, what does this long paragraph mean?
The U6 is sort of the summa of job angst, a shorthand tally for the aggregate of job-related frustration. (Moneybox covered some of this terrain back in 2004.) To compile the U6, the BLS takes the number of unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus all of those employed part-time for economic reasons, and then calculates that total as a percentage of the sum of the entire civilian labor force plus marginally attached workers.And where does this number stand? According to the LA Times:
The Labor Department’s broadest measure of unemployment reached a stunning 15.6% in March, seasonally adjusted. That was up from 14.8% in February and 9.1% in March 2008.