The unemployment rate and beyond

July 11, 2008

The nation’s unemployment rate is widely recognized as a key indicator of labor market performance. As a way to help assess labor market conditions from several perspectives, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes five alternative measures of labor underutilization every month.

Alternative measures of labor underutilization, seasonally adjusted, May 2007 and May 2008 (percent)
[Chart data—TXT]

Two of these measures (U-1 and U-2) are more restrictive than the official unemployment rate, and three (U-4, U-5, and U-6) are broader, incorporating individuals who are not captured in the official measure.

While the alternative measures differ in magnitude from the official unemployment rate, they typically show very similar movements over the course of the business cycle. Between May 2007 and May 2008, for example, all of the alternative rates rose, as did the official rate.

These data are from the Current Population Survey program and are seasonally adjusted. See below for definitions of U-1 to U-6.To learn more, see "The Unemployment Rate and Beyond: Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization" (PDF), Issues in Labor Statistics, summary 08-06, June 2008.

Definitions of U-1 to U-6:

  • U-1: Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force
  • U-2: Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force
  • U-3: Total unemployed persons, as a percent of the civilian labor force (the official unemployment rate)
  • U-4: Total unemployed persons plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers
  • U-5: Total unemployed persons, plus discouraged workers, plus all other "marginally attached" workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all "marginally attached" workers
  • U-6: Total unemployed persons, plus all "marginally attached" workers, plus all persons employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all "marginally attached" workers

Terms used in definitions: Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, The unemployment rate and beyond on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2008/jul/wk1/art05.htm (visited October 31, 2014).

OF INTEREST

Three recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics