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.
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.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, The unemployment rate and beyond on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2008/jul/wk1/art05.htm (visited October 29, 2020).
Recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics
- Gulf War Era Veterans in the Labor Force
Examines the demographic, employment, and unemployment characteristics of civilians who served in the U.S. military during Gulf War era.
- Using BLS Data to Match People with Disabilities with Jobs Presents data that can help increase access and opportunity for people with disabilities in the nation’s labor market.
- How Women and Aging Affect Trends in Labor Force Growth Examines how women’s labor force participation and the aging of the U.S. population affect trends in labor force growth.
- Meal Appeal: Patterns of Expenditures on Food away from Home
Examines spending on food away from home, such as meals or snacks from restaurants, vending machines, employer cafeterias, or other venues.