Real Unemployment Rate With Calculations

Does the Government Lie About Unemployment?

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The real unemployment rate (U-6) is a broader definition of unemployment than the official unemployment rate (U-3). In January 2019, it was 8.1 percent.

The U-3 is the rate most often reported in the media. In the U-3 rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics only counts people without jobs who are in the labor force. To remain in the labor force, they must have looked for a job in the last four weeks.

The U-6, or real unemployment rate, includes the underemployed, the marginally attached, and discouraged workers.

 For that reason, it is around double the U-3 report.

Underemployed people are part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs. The BLS counts them as employed and in the labor force.

The marginally attached are those who have looked for work in the last year but not the previous four weeks. They are not included in the labor force participation rate.

Among the marginally attached are the . They have given up looking for work altogether. They could have gone back to school, gotten pregnant, or become disabled. They may or may not return to the labor force, depending on their circumstances. Once they haven't looked for a job in 12 months, they're no longer counted as marginally attached. 

The BLS issues both the U-3 and the U-6 in each month's jobs report. Surprisingly, there isn't as much media attention paid to the real unemployment rate. But even former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said it paints a clearer picture of actual U.S. unemployment.

Real Unemployment Rate Formula Using Current Statistics

In January 2019, the real unemployment rate (U-6) was 8.1 percent. It's almost double the widely reported unemployment rate (U-3) of 3.7 percent. Here's how to calculate both.

Step 1. Calculate the official unemployment rate (U-3).

U-3 = 6.535 million unemployed workers / 163.229 million in the labor force = 4.0 percent.

Step 2. Add in marginally attached workers. There were 1.614 million people who were marginally attached to the labor force. Add this to both the number of unemployed and the labor force.

U-5 = (6.535 million + 1.614 million) / (163.229 million + 1.614 million) = 8.149 million / 164.843 million = 4.9 percent.

Step 3. Add in part-time workers. There were 5.147 million people who were working part-time but would prefer full-time work. Add them to the unemployed with marginal workers. They're already in the labor force.

U-6 = (8.149 million + 5.147 million) / (164.843 million) = 13.296 million / 164.843 million = 8.1 percent. (Source: "," Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

Compare the Real Unemployment Rate

To put things in perspective, here's the official unemployment rate compared to the real rate since 1994. That’s the first year the BLS collected data on U-6. The rates given are for January of each year. To see unemployment since 1929, go to Unemployment Rate by Year.

Throughout the years, the official rate is a little more than half the real rate. That remains true no matter how well the economy is doing. Even in 2000, when the official rate below the natural unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, the real rate was almost double, at 7.1 percent.

 In 2010, when the unemployment rate was its highest at 9.8 percent, the real rate was still almost double, at 16.7 percent.

Year (as of January)U3 (Official)U6 (Real)U3/U6Comments
19946.6%11.8%56%The first year BLS reported U6
20004.0% (Record Low)7.1%56%Stock market crashed in March
20025.7%9.5%60%U3 closest to U6
20097.8%14.2%55%High of 10.2% in Oct
20155.7% 11.3% 50% 
20164.9%  9.9%49%Both return to pre-recession levels
20174.8%  9.4%51% 
20184.4%  8.2%50% 
20194.0%  8.1%50% 

The point is to make sure you compare apples to apples.

If you say the government is lying during a recession, then you've got to make the same argument when times are good. (Source: “,” Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

The Real Unemployment Rate Was Never as Bad as During the Depression

The unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 25 percent. Unemployment rates were calculated differently back then, but this was likely similar to the real rate today. Did the real unemployment rate during the Great Recession ever reach that level? Despite what many people say, a simple calculation shows this is not true.

In , the official unemployment rate (U-3) reached its height of 10.2 percent. There were 15.7 million unemployed among 153.98 million in the labor force. Add to that the 2.4 million marginally attached, including 808,000 discouraged workers, and you get a U-5 rate of 11.6 percent. Then add in the 9.3 million part-time workers who preferred full-time, and you get the U-6 rate of 17.5 percent. That gives a better sense of 2009 unemployment.

Therefore, even if you stretch the definition of unemployed to include marginally attached and part-time workers, unemployment was never as bad as during the height of the Great Depression. But, unemployment wasn't that high throughout the entire Depression, which lasted for 10 years. If you wanted to make the case, you could say the real unemployment at the height of the Great Recession was as high as unemployment during parts of the Great Depression