What Is the Rate of Hidden Unemployment?

The Hiring Line, FDR Memorial; le haricot via Flickr

Question: What is the current rate of hidden unemployment in the United States, and is it trending upwards?

Paul Solman: It’s not very hidden. Every month, the U.S. government reports a range of unemployment measures. The most inclusive is U-6, defined 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.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics goes on to define these categories:

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 most widely reported unemployment rate excludes the “discouraged,” the “marginally attached,” and part-timers looking for full-time work. That number, “U-3,” was 8.5 percent in March. U-6? 15.6 percent!

When you add in those on disability and in prison who would figure to be disproportionately unemployed were they too in the workforce, you’re heading up into Great Depression territory. See our 2003 story on how the unemployment rate fails to account for the actual number of jobless citizens.