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A Closer Look at Unemployment
Posted By Barry Ritholtz On September 6, 2007 @ 7:19 am In Data Analysis,Economy,Employment,Federal Reserve | Comments Disabled
All eyes are on Friday’s NFP Report. With the markets desperately rooting for a Fed cut, especially after yesterday’s rather punk ADP Employment Report, tomorrow’s BLS release is eagerly awaited.
In the past, I have frequently mentioned that I was not a big believer in the headline Unemployment number. Its methodology — the Household self-reported survey — is suspect, and it simply ignores too many people who are unemployed.
It is not that the unemployment rate is so very bad — its just not nearly as good as the 4.6% we have heard the BLS report. If there were that much of a labor shortage, than real wages have likely risen much more than they did over the past few years.
This line of argument is often greeted by skepticism (what are you, a conspiracy theorist?).
However, what many people seem not to realize is that the source for alternative measures of unemployment comes from none other than the Bureau of Labor Statistics themselves. They actually have quite a few official measures of Unemployment — not that you ever hear about the others.
There are actually six BLS reported measures of Unemployment. (They can be found here: Table A-12: Alternative measures of labor underutilization )
The headline number that you will hear tomorrow — what BLS calls "the official unemployment rate" — is called U3. It is defined as the "Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force."
For the mathematically inclined, that looks something like this:
Unemployment rate = (unemployed) / (employed + unemployed)
Take those termed unemployed, divide that into the civilian labor force, and you get a percentage.>
Let’s look at the other measures of Unemployment BLS reports that are more inclusive than U3.
|Alternative Measures of
|U1||Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a
percent of the civilian labor force
|U2||Job losers and persons who completed
temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force
|U3||Total unemployed, as a percent of the
civilian labor force (the official unemployment rate)
|U4||Total unemployed plus discouraged workers,
as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers
|U5||Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers,
plus all other marginally attached workers as a percent of the civilian labor force plus
all marginally attached workers
|U6||Total unemployed, plus all marginally
attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of
the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers (the "real world" unemployment rate)
|Note:||Marginally attached workers
are those who 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.
|Discouraged workers, a subset of marginally
attached workers, have given a job-market-related reason for not currently looking for a
|Persons employed part time for economic
reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for
a part-time schedule.
How do these various unemployment measures shake out?
U4 = 4.9%
U5 = 5.5%
U6 = 8.3%
Here’s a graphic comparison:
Now you know . . .
Table A-12: Alternative measures of labor underutilization 
Measuring Available and Underutilized Labor Resources 
Federal Reserve Bank San Francisco
Economic Letter, 2000-06; March 3, 2000
How the Government Measures Unemployment 
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1994.
Report 864 (February)
Alternative Measures of the Unemployment Rate 
Oregon Employment Department, Mar-29-2006
Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog
URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2007/09/a-closer-look-at-unemployment/
URLs in this post:
 Table A-12: Alternative measures of labor underutilization: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t12.htm
 Image: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/09/06/alt_measures.gif
 Measuring Available and Underutilized Labor Resources: http://www.frbsf.org/econrsrch/wklyltr/2000/el2000-06.html
 How the Government Measures Unemployment: http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_add.htm
 Alternative Measures of the Unemployment Rate: http://www.qualityinfo.org/olmisj/ArticleReader?itemid=00000486&print=1
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