In September, the number of Idahoans looking for a job but unable to find one plus the number of part-time workers who wish to work full time amounted to 120,000. It is called the U-6 number, a measure of the state’s unemployed and underemployed. As a percentage, it is 15.9 percent of the available workforce.

U-6 is a quarterly calculation, with the latest number released Oct. 28. The common measure of the unemployed, called U-3, is released each month. U-3 is the U.S. Department of Labor’s “official” unemployment rate. For Idaho, the number in September was 68,000, or 9 percent of the workforce, defined as people without jobs who have actively looked for work within the past four weeks.

So, why the discrepancy in identifying an unemployment number? U-6 has been calculated since the mid-1990s in an effort to have U.S.numbers that are comparable to how many other Western economies track unemployment, which is by using a U-6 model.

Monte Munn, an economics professor at Treasure Valley Community College, believes the U-6 number should be used instead of U-3. “U-6 is a lot more accurate. U-3 greatly underestimates, or understates the real unemployment,” he said.

Munn also believes that the government, regardless of which party is in power, doesn’t want to tarnish its image by using the higher U-6 figure. “It would scare the citizens to death and it would make the government look bad. The government wants to look as good as it can.”

The debate between U-3 and U-6 numbers is somewhat imprecise, according to Dr. Antony Davies, an economics professor at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania and a researcher at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. Mercatus defines its mission as approaching problems from a market-oriented perspective.

Davies said the percentage relationship between U-3 and U-6, with the U-6 number always higher than U-3, is not a whole different now than it has been since the year 2000. Which means that federal U-3 figures have always understated unemployment and underemployment by about the same percentage in good times and bad.

Davies said what is important is to keep whichever method is cited in context. He said that “From 2000 to 2007, U-3 averaged 5.0 percent. Today, U-3 is 9.1 percent. In other words, U-3 today is 1.81 times what it was from 2000 to 2007. While U-6 is an (apparently) whopping 16.1 percent today, from 2000 to 2007, U-6 averaged 8.7 percent. That makes U-6 today 1.84 times what it was from 2000 to 2007.”

Idaho’s U-3 unemployment numbers dropped slightly in September to 9 percent. That’s down from 9.2 percent in August. The state’s U-6 number also dropped from the second quarter reporting cycle, which ended in June.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor (IDL), 17,000 new workers were hired in September, which was more new workers hired than in September of 2010. Almost 24,000 of those who were unemployed (out of a total of 68,000) received unemployment benefits, which totaled $22.9 million. Last September, that number was 31,000 people collecting benefits totaling $35.9 million.

And, according to the IDL, 11,800 unemployed workers have used up all unemployment benefits without being able to find work.

U-3 unemployment rates did go up in 14 of the 44 counties in Idaho, but 27 counties saw the numbers go down. One, Ida County, had the lowest unemployment rate at 5 percent, while Adams County’s jobless rate is the state’s highest at 18.9 percent.

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  1. Under-employment goes beyond U-6, beyond part-time work and temporary gigs, to survival jobs in a field which doesn’t make use of one’s knowledge, talent and experience. No one has figured out a good way to measure it, though. For now, a former software architect or biophysicist serving coffee is considered by the government to be a fully-employed food service worker and is expected to suck up the 75% loss of income (even while STEM executives whine “talent shortage” and get special subsidies from the government to bring in cheap, pliant foreign labor with flexible ethics and other government statisticians claim to be puzzled at the drop in consumer spending).

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