The big March jobs miss — and why the real unemployment rate sure ain’t 8.2%

Posted by on Apr 06, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Recall that back in 2009, White House economists Jared Bernstein and Christina Romer used their old-fashioned Keynesian model to predict how the $800 billion stimulus would affect employment. According to their model—as displayed in the above chart, updated—unemployment should be around 5.8% today.

But the true measure of U.S. unemployment is far worse:

1. If the size of the U.S. labor force as a share of the total population was the same as it was when Barack Obama took office—65.7% then vs. 63.8% today down from last month—the U-3 unemployment rate would be 10.9%.

2. But what if you take into the account the aging of the Baby Boomers, which means the labor force participation (LFP) rate should be trending lower. Indeed, it has been doing just that since 2000. Before the Great Recession, the Congressional Budget Office predicted what the LFP would be in 2012, assuming such demographic changes. Using that number, the real unemployment rate would be 10.5%.

3. Of course, the LFP rate usually falls during recessions. Yet even if you discount for that and the aging issue, the real unemployment rate would be 9.4%.

4. Then there’s the broader, U-6 measure of unemployment which includes the discouraged plus part-timers who wish they had full time work. That unemployment rate, perhaps the truest measure of the labor market’s health, is still a sky-high 14.5%.

5. The employment-population ratio dipped to 58.5% vs. 61% in December 2008. An historically low level of the U.S. population is actually working.

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