FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Counting the Unemployed

Recent presidents have played fast and loose with the definition of unemployment. There wasn’t much the rest of us could do about these bipartisan numbers games designed to mask how bad things really were. (Well, actually, the media might’ve chosen not to play along). Defining unemployment is one of the powers of the presidency.

Now that we’re mired in the so-called Great Recession, honesty about the numbers of unemployed really matters. It matters because economists are already suggesting that we’re likely to see yet another jobless recovery as the recession eases. It matters because were the public to know the truth about how many Americans are out of work or can’t find a full-time job, they’d likely demand their elected representatives do something about it.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an office of the federal Department of Labor, you’re unemployed if you do not have a job of any sort (including those on temporary lay off), have been actively looking for work during the past four weeks, and are “available for work.”

You’re employed if you did any work for pay or profit (regardless of whether its just a few, inadequate hours and you’d work more if you could), made at least one specific active effort to find a job during the prior 4 weeks, are an “unpaid family worker” in a family business, on strike, locked out, on unpaid personal leave, or kept off the job by bad weather.

Then there’s those who are neither employed or unemployed (like househusbands); they’re “not in the labor force.”

And, finally, you are “marginally attached to the work force” if do not have a job, but have wanted and looked for work in the past twelve months (just not the past four weeks). The numbers of these folks has “increased sharply” during the current recession according to the BLS. But again, they do not count as unemployed.

The June 2009 unemployment figure for the United States was 9.5%. When the BLS adds the unemployed to the number of involuntary part time workers (underemployed) to the number of marginally attached workers, the June 2009 figure is 16.5%. It refers to the higher figure as an “alternative measure of labor underutilization.”

There may be good methodological reasons for the current definitions. I suspect some labor statistician could make a compelling case for the status quo. But that’s not what concerns the under-employed and the marginally attached. They need decent full-time jobs, not reassurance that they’re not really unemployed.

One possible solution is for the government to encourage the media to report the higher figure, and for federal officials to use it themselves. Another approach is for the President to change the accounting system by which we define the unemployed. He could issue an Executive Order directing the Department of Labor to use the more comprehensive figure.

The Order might read something like this:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release Date

EXECUTIVE ORDER
REFORM OF THE DEFINITION OF UNEMPLOYMENT

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in the interest of an accurate accounting of all Americans looking for work, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. Helping create jobs for those who want them is a key goal of my Administration. Our current method for determining the number of unemployed is inadequate and misleading. It undercounts the number of job seekers thus impairing our ability to assist them.

Sec. 2. Action. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor shall replace its current definition of unemployment by the definition it presently considers an alternative measure of labor underutilization (also known as U-6).

Sec. 3. General Provision. The monthly unemployment figure shall consist of the sum total of those heretofore defined as unemployed, working part-time for economic reasons, and marginally attached to the work force.

BARACK OBAMA
THE WHITE HOUSE,
Date.

President Obama promised to help create five million new jobs while on the campaign trail. He made this promise when unemployment was considerably lower than it is today. Given that the unemployment rate is likely to climb further before it declines, his economic team will likely not be eager to make the slope of the President’s job creation hill even steeper.

But enacting an Executive Order of this sort (or pushing legislation if that’s what’s required to make the change) would be an important step towards the transparency in government presidential candidate Obama promised us. It would demonstrate perhaps unprecedented presidential solidarity with the under- and unemployed. And it would increase the chances we’ll see the job creation policies emerging from Washington we urgently need.

STEVE BREYMAN teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Steve Breyman was a William C. Foster Visiting Scholar Fellow in the Clinton State Department, and serves as an advisor to Jill Stein, candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail