Gallup Finds U.S. Unemployment at 10.2% in Mid-March, Underemployment was also Unchanged from the end of February, at 19.9%

REPRINT FROM GALLOP

March 17, 2011
by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist
PRINCETON, NJ

— Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, was at 10.2% in mid-March — essentially the same as the 10.3% at the end of February but higher than the 10.0% of mid-February and the 9.8% at the end of January. The U.S. unemployment rate is about the same today as the 10.3% rate Gallup found in mid-March a year ago.

The percentage of part-time workers who want full-time work was 9.7% in mid-March — essentially unchanged from the 9.6% in both February measurements and higher than the 9.1% at the end of January. The percentage of the U.S. workforce that is working part time but wanting full-time work is the same now as was the case a year ago.

Broader Underemployment Was Unchanged in Mid-March

Underemployment, a measure that combines the percentage of part-time workers wanting full-time work with the percentage who are unemployed, was 19.9% in mid-March. Not surprisingly given the lack of change in its components, this is identical to the end-of-February reading, and is virtually the same as the 20.0% of mid-March a year ago.

Jobs Situation About the Same as It Was a Year Ago

The government’s February report on the U.S. unemployment situation suggests that 192,000 jobs were created last month and the unemployment rate declined to 8.9%, down from 9.7% a year ago. Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley and others said they were encouraged by this report.

However, Gallup’s unemployment and underemployment measures have not shown the same gains in early 2011. Gallup finds an unemployment rate (10.2%) and an underemployment rate (19.9%) for mid-March that are essentially the same as those from mid-March 2010.

In part, the difference between Gallup’s and the government’s current job market assessments may be due to the government’s seasonal adjustments. Gallup’s U.S. unemployment rate is also more up-to-date — its mid-March data include jobless figures for much of March, whereas the government’s latest unemployment rate is based on the jobs situation in mid-February.

Most importantly, a key reason the government’s unemployment rate is dropping apparently has to do with the so-called participation rate: the percentage of Americans who are counted as being in the workforce. The government’s participation rate in February was at its lowest level since 1984. In essence, this tends to suggest that the government’s unemployment rate may be declining because many people are becoming discouraged and leaving the workforce — not because they are getting new jobs.

If this is the case, then neither Gallup’s unemployment report nor that provided by the government is good news for the economy. It is equally bad news if people are out of work and looking for a job or just too discouraged to say they continue to do so. Either way, a lack of sufficient job creation to increase employment among those who want to work remains a major obstacle to U.S. economic growth in the months ahead.

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