Labor Force Participation Rate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 11th, 2013

Economics 101

The Official U-3 Unemployment Rate doesn’t count Everyone who can’t find a Full-Time Job

The unemployment rate fell in February 2012.  Yet more people are out of the workforce than they were in January.  Odd.  For the two seem to contradict each other.  For how can the workforce shrink when the unemployment rate falls.  Easy.  It just depends on who you count.  The federal government has a few ways to count unemployed people.  Specifically, they have six ways.

U-1  Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force.

U-2  Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force.

U-3  Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate).

U-4  Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers.

U-5  Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.

U-6  Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force.

As you can see they count more people at each of the six levels.  And the official U-3 unemployment rate doesn’t count a lot of people.  By the time you add in discouraged workers, the marginally attached and those working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job the unemployment rate increases.  With the U-6 number giving a truer picture of the employment picture.  Which currently stands at 14.3%.  And is a long way from the official 7.7%.  So even though the news reports are celebrating that the economy is improving because the unemployment rate fell from 7.9% to 7.7%, the U-6 unemployment rate stands at 14.3%.  Down from 14.4% in January 2012.  Which is pretty bad.  And little to celebrate about.

The U-6 Unemployment Rate counts all of the People who can’t find a Full-Time Job

To better understand these numbers we need to understand exactly who the people are that they are counting.  Who are the people that could be working.  Who are the people working.  And who are the people not working.  Which is all defined at Civilian Noninstitutional Population and Associated Rate and Ratio Measures for Model-Based Areas.  And summarized here:

The civilian noninstitutional population consists of persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities and homes for the aged) and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

Employment consists of all persons who, during the reference week (the calendar week including the twelfth day of the month), (a) did any work at all (at least 1 hour) as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of the family, or (b) were not working but had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs.

Unemployment consists of all persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

The civilian labor force consists of all persons classified as employed or unemployed as described above.

The labor force participation rate represents the proportion of the civilian noninstitutional population that is in the labor force.

The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force, then, equals the total of employed and unemployed people.  But note who they count as unemployed.  Only people who were looking for work during a 4-week period.  And those on a layoff subject to recall.  (Who didn’t have to look for work during that 4-week period.)  Which excludes everyone who gave up looking for work not subject to recall who can’t find a job.  People who are living on their savings, their credit cards, their spouse’s income, their retirement nest egg or even moving back in with their parents.  Or are working a part-time job or two because they can’t find a full-time job.  The U-6 rate counts all of these people.  Which is why it’s almost twice the official unemployment rate.  And why it’s a much better indicator of the employment picture.

The most Accurate Read of the Employment Picture is the Labor Force Participation Rate

So you now can see how the official unemployment rate can fall even though fewer people are working.  They calculate the unemployment rate by dividing unemployment by the civilian labor force.  And the smaller unemployment is the smaller the unemployment rate is.  Which it is when you don’t count all of the people who can’t find a job.  Which brings us to the labor force participation rate.  Which they calculate by dividing the civilian labor force (the employed plus the unemployed) by the civilian noninstitutional population (the total of the civilian population that could be working).  Which, like the U-6 unemployment rate, provides a truer picture of the employment picture.

The U-3 and U-6 unemployment rates improved in February.  Showing an improving employment picture.  While the labor force participation rate fell from 63.6% to 63.5%.  Which means those not in the labor force increased.  Going from 89,008,000 to 89,304,000.  An increase of 296,000 people who disappeared from the labor force.  Which is greater than the 227,000 new jobs created.  So even though the unemployment rate fell there was a net loss in jobs.  Which means the economy got worse.  Not better.

Mark Twain said facts don’t lie but liars figure.  And this is what he meant.  The employment picture is not improving.  But the government reports the 227,000 new jobs and the falling unemployment rate as signs of an improving economy.  But the most accurate read of the employment picture, the labor force participation rate, shows the economy is getting worse.  As everyone who is struggling in the private sector already knows.  So someone is lying.  And it isn’t the facts.  It is those who want to hide the damage the government’s policies are doing to the economy.  So they can keep trying the same failed policies of the past.  Keynesian economic policies.  Favoring more government intervention into the private economy.  While dragging out the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.  Another period of failed Keynesian economic policies.  For Keynesian policies are anti-business policies.  But pro-government growth policies.  Which is why liars figure.  And the labor force participation rate falls.

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