Department of Numbers

Alternative Unemployment Measures

In addition to the headline unemployment rate (which is also known as U-3), the BLS publishes numerous alternative measures each month that further develop the labor picture. We've highlighted three of the labor underutilization metrics below as well as the unemployment rate for extended periods of unemployment. All figures are seasonally adjusted.

Labor Underutilization

The U-4, U-5 and U-6 time series (as they are descriptively named by the BLS) broaden the headline unemployment rate definition in order to estimate the underutilization of workers in the economy.

U-4 is the headline unemployment rate with discouraged workers included. Discouraged workers are available for work, but are not currently looking for it because they believe there are no jobs available to them. Discouraged workers are a subset of marginally attached workers.

U-5 is defined as the headline unemployment plus all marginally attached workers — those who would like a job and would take one if offered but have not been looking for work recently enough (within the last 4 weeks) to be counted in the headline figure.

U-6 includes all marginally attached workers as well as workers who are employed part-time for economic reasons (i.e. workers who would prefer full-time work, but have not been able to find it). U-6 is the broadest measure of unemployment the BLS reports.

Alternative
Unemployment Rates
May 2018 Month/Month
(Points)
Year/Year
(Points)
U-3: Headline Unemployment 3.8% -0.1 -0.5
U-4: U-3 + Discouraged Workers 4.6% -0.1 -0.6
U-5: U-3 + All Marginally Attached Workers 4.6% -0.1 -0.6
U-6: U-5 + Part-time for Economic Reasons 7.6% -0.2 -0.8

Alternative Unemployment Rates: U-4, U-5, U-6, Headline National

Chart of alternative unemployment measures U-4, U-5 and U-6

Note: Recessions shown in gray

Extended Unemployment Rate

U-1 tracks the fraction of the labor force that has been unemployed for more than 15 weeks. U-1 is defined just like the headline unemployment rate except it removes the fraction of the labor force that has been unemployed less than 15 weeks. U-1 hints at some of the more explicit unemployment duration data available.

Unemployment Rate May 2018 Month/Month
(Points)
Year/Year
(Points)
U-1 1.3% -0.1 -0.4

Unemployment Rate: Greater than 15 weeks unemployed, Headline National

Chart of U-1, the rate of extended unemployment