Department of Numbers

More Unemployment Numbers

Posted Wednesday, July 15 2009

I've added some alternative unemployment metrics from the BLS. The labor underutilization metrics from the BLS U series give a broader view of unemployment. The two I'm most interested in are U-5 and U-6. U-5 expands the unemployed definition to include marginally attached workers. Marginally attached workers are, in short, non-working individuals who have looked for a job in the last 12 months and would take one if it were offered to them now but have not actively looked for work in the last 4 weeks. The headline unemployment rate (which is also known as U-3), requires that an individual be actively seeking work within the last 4 weeks or else they fall out of the labor force as the BLS defines it. The U-5 series thus broadens the definition of unemployment.

Like U-5, U-6 expands the labor force by including marginally attached workers. It then goes one step further and includes people who are employed part-time for economic reasons. This means that the BLS is considering underemployed, part-time workers who want a full-time job as unemployed for this series. This is the broadest measure of unemployment that the BLS publishes. Interestingly, the New York Times published a really cool piece today where they did some analysis on the raw Census Current Population Survey data in order to get timely U-6 type data for each state. Well done NYTimes!

In addition to the two underemployment metrics, I also added two more metrics that in my mind help illustrate the inertia in labor markets. The first series measures the rate of extended unemployment. This is simply the headline unemployment rate as it would look if you only counted people who had been unemployed for more than 15 weeks. It removes people who have had short and (relatively) less painful unemployment experiences. The other measures I looked at were the average and median unemployment durations.

Remember, none of these numbers have anything to do with receiving unemployment insurance (i.e. getting a weekly/monthly check after you've been laid off). All the metrics used here are from the BLS's interpretation of the monthly Current Population Survey data.

Update: I updated some links since I moved the unemployment duration data to it's own page.