The De Facto Unemployment Rate: 25.12%.

Ever since the early 1980s, residents of the Youngstown area have always been skeptical of government’s official unemployment rate. In 1982, the official unemployment rate hit 24.9% but declined to around 12% in early 1984. The Ohio governor and city officials praised the dramatic decline, but local residents knew that rate failed to account for workers who had given up looking for work, were working part-time, or had been forced into early retirement. In a report commission by the State of Ohio, the YSU Urban Studies program found that “real” unemployment rate was over 18 percent or about 1.5 times higher than the official rate.

Given the “shock” over the most recent unemployment numbers, it is worthwhile to take another look at the figures in light of Youngstown’s experience. But first we need some definitions of various categories of unemployed people, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a comparative study done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  Attention class!

Officially unemployed– Persons who worked less than one hour during the nationally determined reference period (one week), looked for work during this period, and were available for work during this period.

Marginally attached workers – Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for work and who have looked for a job sometime in prior 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the four weeks preceding the survey.

Discouraged workers – Persons not is labor force who are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months)

Underemployed -Persons who would like to work full time but are not able to do so for economic reasons such as unavailability of full-time work or reduced demand for hours by current employer

Excess disability – Persons who are excluded from labor force because of sick leave or early retirement

Government programs – Persons receiving government subsidized or government provided programs. For example, low wage workers receiving Earned Income Tax Credits

Prison and jail populations – Persons not in labor force because of incarceration.

Now using these definitions and information for the current employment reports, we can begin to make estimates of the “de-facto” unemployment rate.

The official unemployment rate in December was 7.2%, an increase of .4% from the preceding month and a 2.4% increase since the National Bureau of Economic Research officially designated start of the recession in December of 2007. (These academic economists could not decide that we were in a recession until last month). To this we can add individuals who are marginally attached to the workforce (1.2%), discouraged (.4%), or who are underemployed (5.2%). The latter figure is of particular concern as some companies reduce workers’ hours in order to avoid layoffs. This was borne out in the current employment report where the average hours worked declined to 33.3 hours.  The next step for struggling employers will be layoffs. Anyway, if you’re keeping track, our de-facto unemployment rate is up to 14%.

From here it gets statistically more difficult. But using the approach taken in the Center for Economic and Policy Research study, we can estimate that 6% of the potential labor force consists of people who have been forced to retire or are on sick leave, and those whose work is being subsidized by the Federal Government is at 4%. Both of these are conservative figures given the high levels of plant and office closings and buyouts in the past year.  Together, they add another 10% to the de-facto unemployment rate

Finally, prison reform advocates have long suggested that incarceration levels are a direct response to economic conditions. This is especially important in a country that has such high rates of incarceration; according to a 2003 British study, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  If we count incarcerated people among the unemployed, that adds another 1.48% to our de-facto unemployment rate for a total of 25.12%

Unemployed 11,1087.2%
MarginallyAttached 1.908(1.2%)
Discouraged 642(.04%)
Underemployed 8038(5.2%)
Excess disability* Est.(6.0%)
Government Programs* Est.(4.0%)
Subtotal 23.64%
Prison Population 2.300(1.48%)
Total 25.12%

So what does all this mean? It is what “Main Street” not “Wall Street” has been saying for a long time. The economy is bad, real bad, and it’s getting worse for working families. It is particularly difficult for those who have given up looking for work because they have been left behind by economic change and technology, working-class people whose only hope for the future is in jobs with short job ladders and poor pay. Not only have they been forgotten, but they have erased from official unemployment reports.

To make matters worse, over the last 20 years, business and economic reporters and/or commentators have been, at best, Pollyannaish and at worse flaks and con men when comes about talking about the real situation for working- and middle-class Americans. The media has only recently begun to reassess the economic situation as journalists and pundits have tried to make sense of the mortgage crisis, financial failures and scandals, widespread layoffs and the growing economic crisis.

We count on policy makers and the press to provide accurate information to help us understand and address the economic crisis.  The more we know, the better prepared we can be, as individuals and as a society, to respond effectively.  This is especially true in light of the recent debate over whether we are in a recession (mild or severe) or on the brink of regional and/or a national economic depression.

Youngstown’s unemployment rate still among the highest in the nation after 25 years, and now the whole country has begun to know what Youngstown has known for a long time.

John Russo

This entry was posted in John Russo, The Working Class and the Economy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The De Facto Unemployment Rate: 25.12%.

  1. Pingback: The Pandemic as an Employment Shell Game | Working-Class Perspectives

  2. Pingback: How Government Statistics Define the Stories of the Working Class | Working-Class Perspectives

  3. Pingback: Life After ‘Youngstown 2010’ - The News Outlet

  4. Pingback: Rust Wire » Blog Archive » Life After ‘Youngstown 2010′

  5. Pingback: Life After ‘Youngstown 2010’ - The Youngstown Project

  6. Russ says:

    I’ve read many posts. The preceding post by Heather reflects my own viewpoint 100%. In fact as I read Heather’s post I had to remind myself I didn’t write it over and over.

    Nice to see someone else out there can see through the smoke screen!

    Russ ;-D


  7. Heather says:

    A figure of 25% is shocking, though, on second thought, not surprising. A lot of people have long known the government figures discount people who’ve dropped off the radar and can’t find jobs, when their unemployment runs out. The government does the same thing with the inflation numbers, ex-food, ex-energy, ex-about-anything-that-costs-money. What is most discouraging is how the U.S. government is intractably corrupt, filled with corrupt creatures of big-moneyed special interests, who literally write legislation for their toadies in Congress to enact into law. Add to this that there’s a large body of American people who will actually vote against their own interests, put people in office who’d never invite them to the champagne and caviar parties, who more think of them as the noisome rabble, who should just vote for them and go away. It’s a terrible and shameful situation I fear the only answer to is for things to get worse and so dire that all Main Street is really suffering, not just their neighbors, as this is the only thing that is going to wakeup a people grown complacent and intellectually so lazy that demagoguery and outright lies, in-your-face corruption, are considered normal and acceptable. When the time comes that bribery enters the vernacular again, instead of “campaign contributions,” when the people are hurting enough to realize they’ve been had and turn off the talk radio, when they’re ready to consistently throw all the bastards out, it’s only then we’ll see “change we can believe it.” Until then, we have the best government money can buy, and we’ve gotten what we paid for, corrupt demagogues who are looting the treasury and destroying the nation, while we’re popping beer cans and watching football. In other words, the only real solution is when somebody shuts the cable or satellite service off, for non-payment of the bill, because somebody in China has imported the real American economy and MacDonald’s isn’t hiring.


  8. Pingback: USW Blog » Blog Archive » Welcome to the Working Class

  9. Pingback: Danger: Falling Middle Class

  10. Pingback: 2010 Forecast: The Economy, Jobs & World Transits » » Astrology Around The Web

  11. jess says:

    Not that I have a desire to defend the powers that be, but isn’t this how they have always measured it? I guess I like to compare “now” to the “great depression” to judge for myself how bad things are. But if they are measuring the unemployment the same way as they were before, then that’s fine with me. We know the severity of “25% unemployment” from the depression. If it’s measured the same way as then and it only comes up to 15%, we know we aren’t there just yet. Does that make sense?


  12. Jim Morris says:

    The Data also does not include the self employed. This country has more self employed people than it has ever had and this past year those people have made signifigantly less. This will lead to more lay offs for the service related sectors.


  13. John Russo says:

    The New York Times has reported dramatic increases in recruitment for the military. It can argued that it is part of de-facto unemployment calculation. (


  14. Pingback: You Have the Power » Blog Archive » The De Facto Unemployment Rate: 25.12%. « Working-Class Perspectives

  15. Karen Weyant says:

    …and of course, this data does not include all those trying to patch together low paying jobs to try to make “ends meet.”


  16. Tyler says:

    I suppose we should expand “everything by its name” to include “everything by its number.” Sometimes it takes the corrected data to convince the powers that be to confront our greatest challenges. Of course, I’m not pleased to hear the numbers are so bad, but I’m pleased that we have the corrected numbers, so that we can see things with opened eyes. Thanks for the post.


  17. Debra Weaver says:

    I have long thought the equation used to determine the unemployment rate is a farce. I was listening to an interview about unemployment on NPR the other day. I apologize for not remembering what show it was and who was doing the interview. However, the interviewer raised the issue of how unemployment rates are calculated and how it does not include those no longer entitled to benefits and those no longer looking for work. The response was that if someone is no longer looking for work it must mean that they can afford to take time off for a while, therefore they should not be included in the figure. I had never heard such convoluted garbage in my life. How can we get the powers that be to use the definitions and methods you have used above? I think it is important that we have accurate statistics that represent what is happening in the lives of real people. Thank you for your article.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s