Job seekers wait in line for a job fair in San Francisco
Job seekers wait in line for a job fair in San Francisco - 
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JEREMY HOBSON: The unemployment rate in the U.S. right now is 9.8 percent. At least, that's what the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us. Most economists believe that the government's monthly employment survey leaves out millions of Americans who are no longer considered "in the workforce."

Well, now the government is changing the way it measures long-term unemployment because so many Americans have been out of work for so long.

Our Washington Bureau Chief John Dimsdale has the story.

John Dimsdale: Until now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn't counted anyone as being unemployed for longer than two years. Tom Nardone is an assistant commissioner of the bureau.

Tom Nardone: I think it goes back to the days when it actually was a paper form that was filled out and only two digits were allowed.

So anyone out of work for more than 100 weeks was recorded as 99 weeks. But Nardone says that's changing.

Nardone: When we did look back on the data, we found that we never had this proportion, this 11 percent, who are hitting that top coat. So it wasn't really an issue.

So beginning with January's jobless report, the average period of unemployment in America is likely to jump.

Nardone: The reason we're making the change is we suspect that the average duration of unemployment has been understated.

Now the jobless survey will record people out of work for up to five years. Nardone says the more accurate statistics will better measure the true depth of the economic downturn.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.