Today the Department of Labor Statistics released the unemployment stats for January. Their report is anything but optimistic. The current unemployment rate for the nation as a whole is 7.6%, reported as the highest since 1982.
Something I heard on NPR’s All Things Considered this afternoon caught my ear though. Several economists were discussing the fact that at some point during the last 10 years, the US government changed the way they report employment figures. They estimated that the actual unemployment rate was actually 14.8% and rising!
Why? Because the traditional way of reporting employment statistics was much more straightforward. Current reporting methods do not differentiate between involuntary part-time status (those who are working part-time because they simply cannot find a full-time job, and whose part-time job does not pay the bills) and full-time status. It also removes a huge chunk of people (this month 80 million) from the statistical data set for any number of reasons. These aren’t true non-workers (those outside the workforce such as retirees, children, voluntarily non-working spouses, the infirmed, disabled, etc). These are simply people the government has chosen not to count (for our benefit of course).
Finally, these numbers as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are always non-farm workers. So what about the farm workers? How do these numbers translate to a place like Louisiana where a lot of our jobs are on farms and in forests and on waterways (all grouped under ‘farm’)?
These numbers are taken from the same DLS report, but the full version.
The first shows the numbers as they’re generally publicized: 7.6% unemployed, 92.4% employed (happy times right?).
The second gives us the view mentioned above…14.8% unemployed, 80% employed, and another 5% or so either very underemployed or just giving up entirely. (hmm)
The third one is scary. It gives you the raw data. The 142 million employed workers, the 12 million unemployed workers, and the other 80 million workers the DLS has chosen not to discuss with us. (oh yeah, them)
Finally, of that 142 million employed workers, 38 million of them are part-time, and of that 38, at least a quarter of them really don’t want to be.
So the reality of these numbers may in fact be much different than they appear at first glance. If anything they tell us that officially only 104 million of 154 million workers are fully employed (67.5%). This doesn’t mean they have good jobs, jobs matching their skills or education, or even jobs with sufficient income to support them. It just means they are employed full-time. That leaves the total of unemployed and underemployed at 32.5% or roughly 1/3 of workers.
If you account for the 80 million workers that DLS has excluded from their calculations, these numbers become 44% fully employed. 16% underemployed, and 40% unemployed.
And all of this still doesn’t include ‘farm jobs’.
I’m not trying to make a bad situation sound worse, but I am saying that we should keep in mind the underlying numbers and realize that perhaps for many people in our economy and our community, the situation is much worse than we may think.