View Unemployment Level (hover mouse over graphs to view details)
This chart includes four line graphs that show unemployment in numbers of people. To save space, three zeros have been removed from each number. Counts are actually in millions.
- Total Unemployed (U3) – the count of people without jobs who have actively looked for work within the past four (4) weeks. This is the official unemployment count, and the one widely reported. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also has several alternative measures of labor under utilization.
- Part Time due to Economic Reasons – the count of people who want and are available for full-time work, but have had to settle for part-time work due to economic reasons (underemployment). Because these workers have income, albeit diminished, they are not counted as unemployed (U3). Prior to the Great Recession, this number was steady at about 4,300,000 people. Since the recession, the number has plateaued at about 8,200,000. As long as this number remains high, it means the U3 unemployment number is not fully accounting for the impact the job market is having.
- Marginally Attached – Persons 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 past 12 months. (Example: discouraged job seekers who have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work.) Prior to the Great Recession, the number of people classified as marginally attached was steady at about 1,400,000 people. Since the recession, the number has plateaued at about 2,400,000. The marginally attached number is not counted in the total unemployed (U3). As long as this number remains high, it means the U3 unemployment number is not fully accounting for the impact the job market is having.
- Total Unemployed (U6) – This broader view of the number of people being impacted by the job market, is calculated as: Total Unemployed (U3) + marginally attached + part time due to economic reasons. Between 2001 and 2008, the U6 unemployment measure averaged about 14,000,000 people. It currently stands at 23,000,000.
This graph shows that the U3 and U6 unemployment levels normally follow the same curve, as seen between 2001 and 2008. From 2009 through 2012, they no longer track together, as the U3 measure shows unemployment gradually declining, while the U6 measure shows much less progress.
The importance of viewing both the U3 and U6 unemployment levels is underscored by the September 2012 reporting. In comparison with August, the total unemployed (U3) went down by 456,000 people, while those who had to settle for part-time work went up by 582,000 people. This type of change causes the U3 and U6 curves to move in opposite directions – U3 unemployment went down a nice chunk, while U6 got slightly worse.
The difference between the U3 and U6 unemployment numbers amounts to who we are measuring. U3 only measures those who have actively looked for work in the past 4 weeks, while U6 also includes part-time workers who really want full-time work and also people who want work and have looked for work in the past year, but did not actively look during the prior 4 weeks.
Using Multiple Measures to Understand Unemployment.
How the government measures unemployment.
The data sets are from:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Alternative measure of labor underutilization U-6 – LNS13327709
- Unemployment Level – Civilian Labor Force – LNS13000000
- Persons At Work Part Time for Economic Reasons – LNS12032194
- Marginally Attached to Labor Force – LNU05026642