The Not-So-Governmental Guide to the Unemployment Rate

“Unemployment Soars to Highest Level in 16 Years” — The New York Times

The government issued a press release saying the unemployment rate has now reached 7.2%.

Zoinks! That’s high.

Yes, but fear not! According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, even if you have lost your job, you may not be unemployed after all.

Let’s find out.

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As long as you are eligible, you can collect unemployment benefits if you are unemployed or not unemployed unless you are employed or underemployed. Understand?


You see the government’s 7.2% unemployment rate does not count many millions of Americans who could not find a job or could not get full time employment. This is called the U-3 rate, or the ‘official rate.’

then why use it?

Because it looks nice. The government also tracks the seldom reported U-6 rate. This includes all the discouraged and undermployed workers. The U-6 unemployment rate represents real world conditions and is currently 13.5%.

Double zoinks! That’s really high. But it’s not like it’s the Great Depression or anything.

Well, if the current unemployment rate were calculated like it was 80 years ago, it would be 17.5%.

Triple zoinks! That’s scary. But still, during the Great Depression the unemployment rate was 25%, that’s one in four Americans.

That’s true, but unemployment didn’t reach 25% until after four years after the market crashed. In 1930, the year after the crisis, the unemployment rate was 8.9%. THat’s about half of what it is today.

So wait … does that mean …

You’re going to need a lot more zoinks.