It is beyond argument that we have an employment problem in America. The question is: how bad is it? Do the unemployment numbers presented regularly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics represent an honest portrayal of the problem?
The official unemployment rate stands at between 8% and 8.5%, but the truth is that this number only reflects the people who are trying to work and are not working at all. It does not take into account many surrounding, vexing and persistent employment problems.
The official number does not take into account three classes of workers with major issues: first, those who have looked for work but given up. Second, those who are working part time when they seek to work full time. And third, those who are working in jobs well below their established skill level (e.g. the laid-off executive working at 7-11).
Legislation has now been introduced to change the way unemployment is reported. The bill would require the unemployment numbers to take into account at least one of the three groups - those who have left the work force after seeking employment and failing to find it (a number that is also released regularly but to which little attention is now paid).
If that group of people was included now, the unemployment rate would be between 9.5% and 10%. If you add up those who are officially unemployed and those who fall into all three groups who are not counted, the employment problem % is between 15% and 20%.
The point is that government statistics should be an accurate representation of the state of employment. They should reflect not just fleeting realities or snapshots in time, but systemic problems as well.
There is one more, radically different test - albeit an unscientific one - that might be applied to this fundamental issue. We have been told we are in a “recovery,” a term that can only be applicable when business is hiring, people are working, and there is a common perception of renewed economic vitality. Ask yourself and those around you this simple question: does this feel like a recovery?