Unemployment: the whole story

Most politicians and media outlets count as 'unemployed' only those actively seeking work. What about those who have given up on finding full-time work? Here's the rest of the story.

Most sources report unemployment only in terms of active job-seekers. In the trade, that's known as the 'U3' count. If you include people who are 'on the margin' – those who have accepted part-time work or have given up working – that total unemployment count is known as 'U6'. Here, U6 is shown in blue, U3 in red, and the U6 change from 12 months before in green. U3 didn't increase between August and September, but U6 did.

Today’s Employment Situation report showed that in September “total unemployment” including all marginally attached workers jumped to 17.1% while the traditionally reported unemployment rate also stayed flat at 9.6%.

The traditional unemployment rate is calculated from the monthly household survey results using a fairly explicit definition of “unemployed” (essentially unemployed and currently looking for full time employment) leaving many workers to be considered effectively “on the margin” either employed in part time work when full time is preferred or simply unemployed and no longer looking for work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics considers “marginally attached” workers (including discouraged workers) and persons who have settled for part time employment to be “underutilized” labor.

The broadest view of unemployment would include both traditionally unemployed workers and all other underutilized workers.

To calculate the “total” rate of unemployment we would simply use this larger group rather than the smaller and more restrictive “unemployed” group used in the traditional unemployment rate calculation.

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