Wider measure of unemployment paints darker pictureby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
The official U.S. unemployment rate measured by the federal government is 8.9 percent. However, the government has another unemployment measure that many believe tells a truer story of how American workers are faring. By that measure, the unemployment rate in this country is nearly 16 percent.
St. Paul, Minn. — Every month the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the official unemployment rate. However, the BLS actually measures six categories of unemployment, and all of them are rising.
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development analyst Steve Hine said the one the media report every month is called U-3. That category counts people out of work who are seeking jobs, and stands at just under 9 percent.
Hine said the U-6 category is the federal government's most comprehensive unemployment measurement.
That also includes people who are unemployed, but adds those who are working part time and would prefer full-time work, and another group, people no longer looking for work, or so-called discouraged workers.
"The U-6, that broadest measure, went up a couple of tenths to 15.8 percent," Hine said.
That's about 24.7 million Americans. April's 15.8 percent U-6 unemployment rate is very high, in fact the highest since the government created the category in the early 1990s.
It's up from about 9 percent a year ago, up from about 7.5 percent a decade ago.
Steve Hine said the U-6 measure shows the extent of the hard times.
"This has been an incredibly deep recession. Many are calling it the Great Recession to draw parallels with the l930s," Hine said. "We're nowhere near that, of course, in terms of the hardship we're experiencing."
Anthony Morris fits the federal government's better known U-3 category, what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the official unemployment rate. The 49-year-old truck driver has no work.
Morris took a break from his job search at the Workforce Center in St. Paul to explain that his job prospects are slim, and times are tight.
"It's just really hard," Morris said. "I had to depend on some public aid. Luckily my better half is working, and it's hard for us right now. I'm just doing odd jobs and doing whatever I can just to maintain."
The broader U-6 category includes Kathy Erickson. Her situation is not quite as dire.
Erickson said she has low debt and personal savings to tide her over. She has a part-time job, but she wants full-time work.
The 59-year-old Bloomington resident was laid off a year ago from an educational software company. At first, she said, she didn't mind the down time. Erickson said she went back to school to get retraining for health care administration.
But now, she said, she's caught up on tasks around the house, and needs more work.
"Painted everything in the house that needs to be painted," Erickson said. "I think your brain can fade, you lose energy. That's what work provides me is energy, ability to feel to purposeful about the work that's being done."
Erickson said she's not panicked or desperate. But she loses health coverage later this year, and that's a worry. She said she spent money for a faster Internet connection at home to aid her job search.
"It was getting too difficult to find computers at the libraries and the Workforce Centers. They are absolutely full of people," Erickson said.
The state does not measure a Minnesota version of the federal government's U-6. The official state unemployment rate last month was 8.1 percent.
State lawmakers this past session approved a measure to collect the more comprehensive unemployment information, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty, who said it duplicates data already supplied by the federal government.
- Morning Edition, 05/28/2009, 8:40 a.m.