There has been a lot of talk lately about the unemployment rate. What it is nationwide, what it is regionally, and what is acceptable. Less often do we hear about what the unemployment rate means, who it includes. From a research and statistics standpoint, there is no way to accurately measure the number of unemployed in this country. Taking a recent Census count of working age adults, subtracting those on disability, retirement, or on an employment payroll might work, but then one ends up including stay at home parents, stay at home spouses, and others who do not hold a wage-earning job outside the home but also do not consider themselves “unemployed”. One might suggest a variation of the current measure- which is the active list of individuals collecting unemployment insurance- and use it as an open-ended measure, assuming that a person is unemployed until the IRS has tax documents proving their employment. There is still much room for error.
The current measurement of the unemployment rate is based on the number of people actively drawing on unemployment insurance. This leaves out four key groups of people- those who left their last position voluntarily; those who had not worked full time prior to being downsized or laid off; those who worked in the farming industry; and those whose 99 weeks of unemployment have expired and have still not found work. This last group is the most disheartening. What this group represents is those who were laid off at the peak unemployment- over 14% in most areas- and have still not found work, yet the unemployment statistics show that the economy has improved greatly.
Perhaps the economy has improved greatly. The turnaround has certainly begun, and the economy is beginning its slow climb back to an acceptable unemployment rate. Whether the improvement is truly a reduction from 14% to 9% unemployment has been given as fact, but when facing those who no longer qualify for unemployment insurance, or never were able to qualify, the 9% figure doesn’t seem as optimistic as some might think.
It has been said that “figures lie and liars figure”. The current unemployment rate is better than it was two and three years ago, but how much better is not entirely certain. Unfortunately, the current way of measuring seems to be the best way, which means that the four groups of the silently unemployed will continue to be unmeasured, even as the measuring tools tell us that the economy is solid again.