Unemployment (Still) Worse Than You Think

The press reports the bad news this morning that the unemployment rate closed in on 10 percent last month, hitting 9.7 percent from 9.4 percent in July.

That’s a truly awful number—the highest in twenty-six years. But, as we and others have said many times before, it just begins to capture the true misery of joblessness out there.

That’s because the standard measure of unemployment, known as U-3, doesn’t include people who are so discouraged that they’ve quit looking for work. And that doesn’t mean they haven’t looked for work in three years, though that’s part of it. It also doesn’t include people who haven’t looked for work in the last four weeks, for whatever reason.

But the Bureau of Labor Statistics does report that all-inclusive number in its U-6 measure. For August it jumped half a point to 16.8 percent. A year ago it was 10.7 percent.

So how’s the press done so far (the BLS released the number this morning)?

The Journal’s lead story on its Web site right now doesn’t mention the U-6 number. Nor do any of the triple Timeses: New York, Financial, or Los Angeles.

But the Washington Post gets it done. As do Reuters, Bloomberg and NPR’s Planet Money.

At this point, there’s not much excuse for major papers like the Journal and Times to skip the U-6 datapoint, even in their early spot-news stories. It would take them all of thirty seconds to include this crucial number.

UPDATE: Just as I published, Twitter popped up a link to a good WSJ blog post saying the U-6 gives “a clearer picture of the broader employment situation” than the traditionally reported figure. Again, more reason why it should be in the paper’s main story.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.