Employment Statistics: the “real” numbers

April 3, 2011

The part of the Great Economic Malaise that is the human tragedy, unemployment, has been experiencing better headline news. Initial unemployment claims are down below 400,000, and the official unemployment rate is down to below 9%. Job creation in the private sector is fluctuating around the 200,000 per month level. All welcome news indeed.

But before we celebrate, take a look at some charts that provide context in which this has been happening. (all charts, unless noted, are fromwww.calculatedrisk.com , a quite worthwhile blog)

First, here are the good news charts of unemployment claims and job creation:

                                                           (click on any chart to enlarge)

Now, here is the context; not such good news; a most unattractive comparison with other recessions:

Here is the same chart except the data are aligned at the recession low points:


And here is evidence of widespread UNDERemployment:

If we take into account the fewer people looking for work and those working part-time but would rather work full-time, the “real” unemployment rate is close to 16%.  This is down only slightly from its peak.

                                                                                       (chart from ECONOMICPICDATA)

It is impossible to measure the human pain associated with uemployment. About all we can do is look at the duration of joblessness, as this chart does:

Finally, let me say that the idea for this posting came from a conversation I had with Susan Sipprelle, a talented journalist who has been documenting interviews with people over 50 and unemployed. These interviews are worth your time to see and hear. They are at www.overfiftyandoutofwork.com. My other motivation is a sense that many people deal with employment statistics as only numbers, without thought to their deeply human side.