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A word on US unemployment rates

4 November, 2016 (17:20) | Blog, Politics | By: ender

Over the last 8 years of Obama’s presidency each time the Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] releases their unemployment numbers I hear a chorus of conservatives crying over the fact that the official unemployment rate does not include people who are “underemployed” (working part time or at a lower wage than they might normally be working) and it does not include “marginally attached workers” ( discouraged and no longer actively looking for work).

On one hand, they have a point. Those numbers are important in determining the efficacy of economic policy and even if not used as the ‘official’ numbers, they should be taken into consideration and should probably be mentioned and discussed more in the news. With that said, they only seem to use it to bash Obama and ‘liberal’ policies as if, were we to look at these numbers, it would show that Obama’s policies have not had a positive impact on unemployment or economic health at all. This is disingenuous at best.

The fact is that the BLS does keep track of and release those numbers. They call it ‘U-6: Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force”, and it’s exactly the number that the conservatives say should be used. So lets see what those numbers say over the terms of the last 3 presidents.


Note2 : I can only find data on this U-6 number back to Jan 1994 – after Bill Clinton’s first year in office.

In Jan 1994, a year into Bill Clinton’s term the U-6 rate was 11.8%. When he left office the rate was 7.3%. That’s a 38% drop.

In Jan 2001, when George W. Bush took office the U-6 rate was at 7.3%. When he left office the rate was 14.2%. That’s a 94.5% increase!

In Jan 2009, when Barack Obama took office, the U-6 rate was at 14.2% (and rising very fast). In Oct 2016, just a couple months before he leaves office, the rate is 9.5%. That’s a 33% drop.   [44% if you count from the peak (17.10%) from the massive inertia in play that Bush left]

So the “Full” unemployment rate almost doubled under Bush and Obama has brought it back down significantly.

Don’t get me wrong, 9.5% percent is not good enough, and this economic recovery has been slower than anyone would like. And yes, that is a national average, so there are pockets of America where the rate is much higher due to regional differences in economic and business realities. And yes, we need to continue working to ensure that people suffering in those pockets are not left behind as we continue to recover from this last recession.

The fact remains that the economy as a whole *is* massively improved under liberal presidential policies. So what exactly is their argument?




Oct 2016 unemployment numbers [including the U-6 numbers]: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t15.htm

Macrotrends 30-yr chart on U-6 unemployment rate: http://www.macrotrends.net/1377/u6-unemployment-rate

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