Tag Archives: labor underutilization

Measuring Underemployment in Idaho’s Counties

The unemployment rate speaks to labor market conditions including the availability of labor and the level of economic distress. But the unemployed are not the only potential pool of new hires and not the only ones experiencing economic distress.

The official definition of “unemployed” includes only those people who are jobless and have actively looked for work in the past month. “Marginally attached workers” are jobless, want to work, but have given up looking for work because they believe there are no jobs currently available for them. Then there are the workers who want to work full time but currently are working part time (less than 35 hours a week) because they are unable to find full-time jobs.

Recognizing these other forms of labor market distress, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has developed six alternative measures of labor underutilization. Find the BLS measures and descriptions at https://www.bls.gov/lau/stalt.htm.

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Idaho’s Alternative Measures of Unemployment Show Significant Improvement in 2016

While the number of unemployed Idahoans has steadily declined since May 2009, jobless rates for broader definitions of unemployed – such as discouraged, underemployed and marginally attached workers – improved significantly in 2016.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies six measures, or categories, of unemployment rates based on varying components of the labor force – U-1, U-2, U-3, U-4, U-5 and U-6. (See Figure 1 for definitions.) In Idaho, the official unemployment rate falls into the U-3 category.

Idaho’s broadest measure, U-6, improved to No. 12 in the nation in 2016, three spots better than last year and 23 spots better than the No.35 ranking in 2009 as the nation was coming out of the Great Recession. The U-6 rate is the broadest formal measure of labor underutilization – or underemployment – the BLS reports. It’s determined by the total number of unemployed persons, plus all marginally attached workers, plus the total number of workers who are employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers, Many economists use this definition as the most statistically reliable measure because it uses the most robust protocols for sampling and data collection. Continue reading