Marketplace Scratch Pad

U6 and you

Paddy Hirsch Nov 6, 2009

By now you’ve probably read the highlights. The economy lost 190,000 jobs in October, sending the percentage of Americans out of work, but looking for jobs, to 10.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yes, the trend is positive, in that the pace of job losses is slowing. But many people are focused on what’s called U6. This isn’t a third-rate tribute band, it’s the underemployment rate, and it tracks people who work part-time, and people who’ve given up looking for work altogether. This rate is currently at 17.5%.

Seeking Alpha says the U6 rate is considered by some to be a better gauge of true unemployment than the sugar-coated malarkey peddled by the BLS.

What is concerning about job growth as we exit our current recession is the present level of “underemployment” as compared to the 2001 recession figure. Last month our “underemployment” rate was 17%. The highest it reached in the previous downturn was 10.4%. To put the figures in context, the 2001 recession was the third mildest recession in the post-war period but the decline in employment that continued through late 2003 was the largest in the post-war period.

Peering into the numbers, construction and manufacturing did badly. Manufacturing has lost 2.1 million jobs over the last 2 years. The Consumerist notes the news is most grim if you’re a teenager: 27.6% of teenagers who are looking for work are unable to find it.

But health care looks, well, healthy, The BLS says the health care sector has added 597,000 jobs since the recession began. And the number of temporary workers grew by 34,000 — a significant gain that could indicate employers are beginning to expand their businesses again. Auto manufacturing added 4,600 jobs in October, but you can thank the Cash for Clunkers crack hit for that jump.

What’s the government doing about it? The New York Times reports Congress yesterday anticipated the report by voting overwhelmingly to extend benefits for jobless workers for up to 20 weeks.

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