If you think the real unemployment rate in the United States is 9.5%, I'd urge you to reconsider that already bleak assessment. The reality is far bleaker than that. The nation's real unemployment rate is 16.5%. That's because the official 9.5% rate doesn't include the 3.7 million-plus people who are reluctantly working only part time because of the poor labor market. And it doesn't include the workers who have given up scouring want ads for seemingly nonexistent jobs. Today the New York Times looks at the nation's painful reality:
In California and a handful of other states, one out of every five people who would like to be working full time is not now doing so.
It is a startling sign of the pain that the Great Recession is inflicting, and it is largely missed by the official, oft-repeated statistics on unemployment. The national unemployment rate has risen to 9.5 percent, the highest level in more than a quarter-century. Yet it still excludes all those who have given up looking for a job and those part-time workers who want to be working full time.
Include them -- as the Labor Department does when calculating its broadest measure of the job market -- and the rate reached 23.5 percent in Oregon this spring, according to a New York Times analysis of state-by-state data. It was 21.5 percent in both Michigan and Rhode Island and 20.3 percent in California. In Tennessee, Nevada and several other states that have relied heavily on manufacturing or housing, the rate was just under 20 percent this spring and may have since surpassed it.
Almost nobody believes that unemployment has finished rising, either. On Tuesday, President Obama said he expected it to "tick up for several months."
It's fair to say, then, that the downturn is moving into a new stage. It has already been through three: the prologue, when credit markets began to quiver in 2007; the big shock, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers, in September 2008, led into almost six months of terrible economic news; and the stabilization, when the news became more mixed.
Now comes Stage 4: the slog.
A slog? More like a deepening morass. According to the New York Times by September, "one out of every four Californians -- and Oregonians and South Carolinians and Michiganders -- who would like to have a full-time job might not have one."
Even more troubling is the "median weeks unemployed" which now stands at 17.9 weeks, a number much higher than at any time since the BLS began keeping track of this statistic in 1967. This means that not only are people getting laid-off, they are not finding new jobs in quick fashion. The broadest measure of unemployment, "U6" (16.5%) is also the highest since they began keeping this statistic in 1994. The highest number before this recession was 11.8%.
Nor does this number include those now "enjoying" furloughs. In California, state employees, for example, have been furloughed three days a month. A friend who works for a gay men's health care non-profit recently had his hours cut 20%. Suddenly even full-time jobs are becoming part-time ones.