Although the Obama campaign is spinning the new 7.8% September unemployment rate furiously as something positive, there’s nothing to celebrate.
I can’t explain the statistical calculations that made the official unemployment rate for September drop to 7.8 percent. But I do understand that the number of underemployed Americans, according to the government, actually increased from 23.1 to 23.2 million between August and September.
To arrive at this more meaningful assessment of the current employment situation, I reviewed the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers that include, not only the unemployed, but also the underemployed – people like me who are working less than full time, but not by choice – and those who are “marginally attached” to the workforce.
“Marginally attached” workers haven’t looked for work in the past four weeks but want jobs. The sum of unemployed, underemployed and marginally attached workers is often referred to as the U-6 rate (as opposed to the U-3 rate, which reflects only the number of unemployed). Many think the U-6 rate is a more accurate reflection of the actual impact of the economy on the labor force.
The September numbers of unemployed, underemployed and marginally attached workers, reported Friday, are 12.1 million, 8.6 million and 2.5 million, respectively, for a total of 23.2 million people. These figures equate to an underemployment rate for September of 14.7 percent.
I compared these to the August numbers of unemployed, underemployed and marginally attached workers, which were 12.5 million, 8 million and 2.6 million, respectively, for a total of 23.1 million people. These figures translated to an underemployment rate of 14.7 percent, the same rate as September’s.
Another number of particular interest to me hasn’t changed either. That’s the number of long-term unemployed, defined as those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. In August, this number was five million people, or 40 percent of the unemployed. In September, it was 4.8 million, still 40 percent of the total number of people reported as unemployed.
Too pessimistic? OK, just so you don't think I'm one of those glass-is-half-empty people, here’s a positive note on which to conclude: at least the September numbers are no worse than the August ones!