Actual unemployment/underemployment numbers differ significantly from published data – post

By: Don Oehlert, Sr. Managing Partner; <>

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles a count of those Americans that are employed, unemployed and underemployed.They have been doing this since the inception of the WPA in 1940. The results of every survey can be found on their website, which is <>.

The differences between “counted and announced unemployed” are significantly different from those actually unemployed or underemployed.

There is a significant portion of the American labor force that is “underemployed” at this moment in time (even before the COVID-19 outbreak). 

In other words, there are a lot of people that are working for less money than they’ve made in the past, or what their educational and experience level would indicate that they should normally earn at their full-time jobs. 

The term underemployed can also mean that there is a large portion of the working population that is working 2 and even 3 part-time jobs. Due to this, more than likely they have no health benefits, nor do they have financial security. In other words, they could be one paycheck away from homelessness.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (the BLS) actually tracks these levels of employment, unemployment, underemployment, and so on using a 6-level charting system. They are called U1-U6.

  • U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force
  • U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force
  • U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate)
  • U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers (Editor’s note: discouraged workers have lost their drive to find a new job, due to the amount of time that has passed since their last full-time posting)
  • U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
  • U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force. (Editor’s note: THIS IS THE ACTUAL NUMBER OF WORKING-AGE PEOPLE IN THE US THAT ARE ACTUALLY UNEMPLOYED. This number is usually about 2-3 x the U3 figure that is often quoted in the press)

NOTE: Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those 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 past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. 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.

SOURCE: Current Population Survey

As you navigate your day, you should keep these numbers in mind, as this is the actual snapshot of the number of people that are out of work for any number of reasons. In other words, you can draw from this that, during the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the actual figure of unemployed and underemployed was closer to 20-25% of working-age adults in the US population. If you recall US History, then you can see that the Great Recession actually had a similar number of people unemployed as the US did after the 1929 Crash and Great Depression.

While we avoid political leanings or statements of any sort on our blogs and in our posts, we do believe that you should see the actual numbers of your neighbors that are suffering, regardless of what is reported in the press. Now you have the actual data, rather than just the headline.

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