Job Stats: Too Good to be True

The Real Un(der)employment Rate

By Marc Breslow

This article is from the September/October 1996 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

This article is from the September/October 1996 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

issue 207 cover

If you believe the Clinton administration, unemployment has practically disappeared as a problem. But while the official rate is now around 5.5% (still well above what we used to think of as full employment), this figure omits millions of people who want full-time jobs but canÝt find them. If all these people were included, the rate would rise above 12% ˇ presenting a far more dismal picture of job prospects in the United States.

The two main categories omitted from the unemployment statistics are:

  • everyone who wants a job but has not looked for one during the past month, due to discouragement or other difficulties.
  • everyone who has a part-time job but wants full-time work.

The true underemployment rate was a whopping 17.3% in 1992, perhaps explaining George Bush's loss to Bill Clinton in the presidential race. And although the true rate today is more than what Clinton claims, it may be low enough compared to recent years to reward with him reelection.

Sources: Monthly Labor Review, Employment & Earnings, both by Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (See also "The Real Un(der)employment Rate," D&S, May/June 1995).
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