Unemployment & Underemployment rate hits 17.5%

The big number is that unemployment, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls U-3, reached 10.2%.  However, it is worse than that since the broadest measure of unemployment, what the BLS calls U-6, is now at 17.5%.  A year ago, the respective U-3 & U-6 rates were 6.1% & 11.1%.  The BLS defines U-6 as:

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.


  • Marginally attached workers are persons 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 recent past.
  • Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job.
  • 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.

The previous recorded high was 17.1 percent,
in December 1982.

To reiterate a point I made about the increasing inequality of the US economy, economist Paul Krugman mentioned:

Take the United States, which wasn’t damaged in the war. Take per
capita real GDP. Give hostages by taking data from 1950 to 1980, which
means including the 1980 recession, but stopping at 2007, so that the
current slump isn’t included. Then here’s what you get:

Growth in per capita real GDP from 1950 to 1980: 2.2 percent per year
Growth in per capita real GDP from 1980 to 2007: 2.0 percent per year

Oh, and if we look at real median family income instead, we get:

Growth from 1950 to 1980: 2.3 percent per year
Growth from 1980 to 2007: 0.7 percent per year

So comparing the time period from 1950 to the recession of 1980 with that of the recession of 1980 to the boom of 2007, Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush2 did worse in average terms than the previous 30 years.  If you look at the median family income, i.e. those people in the middle of the income distribution, things are even worse for the Reagan+ period.


  1. BLS, Table A-12. Alternative measures of labor underutilization
  2. Paul Krugman Blog: 11/07/2009  Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!

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