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Hidden Unemployment

April 28th, 2008 · Leave A Comment

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At 5.1%, the current unemployment rate is relatively low by historical standards. But the percentage of jobless Americans of prime working age — 13.1% for men 25 to 54 years old — is historically high. Most of them do not qualify as unemployed, but they are nonetheless out of work.

This discrepancy exists because the government’s definition of the unemployed includes only people who do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the four weeks preceding the survey and are currently available for work. The headline number is based on a survey of 60,000 households and is the most widely reported number in the jobs report.

But it excludes the self-employed, those working part-time or on commission only, and the underemployed (example: mortgage brokers toiling at Starbucks for several hours a week). It also doesn’t count those who have given up looking for work altogether — a category known as “discouraged workers” — and who are defined as persons not currently looking for work specifically because they believe there aren’t any jobs available for them.Some analysts say it is this particular group of jobless Americans — who believe their prospects for finding a job are getting ever dimmer, yet who don’t figure in the computation of the unemployment rate — that represents the nation’s dire job situation. Many may have become discouraged quicker simply because they don’t see the full unemployment picture.

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