The Full Picture: Broader Unemployment Hits 15.6%


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Published in the Wall Street Journal April 3, 2009

Americans are giving up on their job searches at a faster pace. The nation’s official unemployment rate jumped to 8.5% in March from 8.1%, putting U.S. joblessness at its highest since November 1983.

But the Labor Department’s most comprehensive gauge of unemployment surpassed even its early 1980s levels. The government’s broader measure, known as the “U-6″ for its data classification, hit 15.6% in March — a big leap from 14.8% in February.

The comprehensive measure of labor underutilization accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs. The March figure is the highest since the Labor Department started this particular data series in 1994. It’s also above a discontinued and even broader measure that hit 15% in late 1982, when the official unemployment rate was 10.8%. (That data series goes back to the 1970s.)

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