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In which John Green discusses the "real" unemployment rate in the United States, and how different ways of calculating jobless rates have led to vastly different conclusions about the health of the U.S. economy. SOURCES BELOW!

Other questions addressed include: What is the difference between the U1 unemployment rate and the U6 unemployment rate? Which one is the better measure of unemployment? What percentage of Americans are employed? And what percentage of those unemployed are looking for work? And what does it all say about the present and future of the U.S. economy, and our divisive political discourse? Thank you to Rosianna for all the charts and graphs!

The information in this video came from:

1. Trading Economics has great and visually intuitive explanations of the U-3 unemployment rate over time in the United States:

2. BLS stats about labor force participation rates and how many people out of the labor force say they "do not want a job now"

3. Information about the civilian labor force participation rate can be found here: and the labor force participation rate for those between 25 and 54 can be found here:

4. This is a highly detailed article that I found helpful looking at causes of the decline in labor force participation: An easier to read overview at the Washington Post:

5. Real median household income in the United States is, after adjusting for inflation, rising but not yet to pre-recession levels:

6. This article explores how we try to have internationally comparable unemployment rates:

7. This web site has an easy-to-use interface that allows you to look at the U-3, U-5, and U-6 unemployment figures over time:

8. This has up-to-date figures all unemployment measures (including U-1 and U-2, which aren't discussed in this video):

I think that's it. If you have any specific questions, let me know and I'll try to add sources here.

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday!

So last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that in the US in December, the unemployment rate was 4.7%. Close to the lowest it's been in nine years and fairly close to lowest it's been since the early 1970s, but you may also heard that the real unemployment rate in the US was 6% or 9.2% or 20% or even 38%. 

And to me, this seems like, one example among many, of how in our current political discourse, different people are reaching vastly different conclusions because they're all looking at different sets of data. And until we can agree on what the facts are, we can't meaningfully discuss what they mean. 

Let's start with that 38% number. This refer to the labor force participation rate, which is a measure of how many Americans over the age 18 [sic: it's 16] are either working or actively looking for work. Now, as you can see, this rate has declined quite a bit over the last 20 years, from over 67% to under 63%, but by the far the biggest reason for this decline is that Americans are getting older, which means that a higher percentage of them have retired.

But even if you look at the labor force participation rate of people between the ages of 25 and 54, that rate has also declined, about 1.5% since the great recession and about 3.5% since its height in the late 1990s. What's the deal there? Well, the two biggest factors seemed to be more people choosing to be full-time parents and more students in professional and graduate schools. According to the most recent data, 90 of 95 million Americans not in the workforce say they 'do not want a job now'. 

But the remaining 5 million people, of course, is a lot of people. like, it's 3% of the total US labor force. And some portion of the declining labor participation is probably due to lack of job opportunities: people might have retired earlier than they otherwise would've because they lost a job or they might be in graduate school, but they could be tempted in the workforce for the right opportunity, etc.

Now, smart people disagree about how much of the declining labor participation is attributable to the economy. But, on its own, that statistic does not tell much about unemployment. For one thing labor force participation rate will continue to decline as the population continues to age, whether the economy is good or bad. But also, if you're gonna claim that the real US unemployment is 38%, that means back in 1967 it was 41% and that the lowest the US unemployment has ever been is 33% in 2000.

So let's move on to actual measures of unemployment. Every month, the US Census Bureau surveys 60,000 households to find out how many people are out of work, and then on the first Friday of every month, they release six different unemployment rates, because nothing is ever easy, but for our purposed only four of them matter. 

First, you have U-3, which is the official unemployment number. It includes all adult civilians who are without work and have looked for a job within the last four weeks, that's the number that is currently 4.7%. Then you have U-4, which adds in so-called discouraged workers, people who are without jobs but have stopped looking for work because they don't believe there are any jobs they could get. Adding them raises the current unemployment rate to 5%. And then U-5 adds in so-called marginally attached workers, who are people who wanna be in the workforce but haven't recently sought jobs because they're taking family responsibilities or taking classes, and they bring the unemployment rate up to 5.7%  And then lastly, U-6 includes people who work part time but wanna be working full time. Including them brings the current unemployment rate up to 9.2%.

So which of these is the real unemployment rate? Well, it depends on what you're trying to measure. The U-3 number is useful for one thing because it's closely aligned with international standards, which allows us to compare our unemployment rate to that of other countries. Like, in Brazil, a similar measure has the unemployment rate at 12%, in Germany it's 4.1%, in Spain it's 19%. But the U-6 number is also useful because it helps us to understand how much so-called 'slack' there is in the labor market, that is how much room there is for job growth.

As you can see U-3 and U-6 basically track together, but there are slight differences, like the distances between U-3 and U-6 is currently slightly higher than it was before the 2009 recession, indicating that there may be more room for job growth than the U-3 number would have us conclude. 

The most important thing, though, is that when talking about our unemployment rate, we can't compare oranges with grapefruits, and unfortunately that's happening a lot in our political conversations right now. You might hear for instance that, at the height of the Recession, unemployment was 10% and now it's only down to 9.2%, but that's mixing unemployment measures.

If the current unemployment rate is 9.2%, it was 17% at the height of the Recession, and if it was 10% at the Recession's peak, it is currently 4.7%. By either measure, unemployment in the United States is lower than the average has been since World War Two, but it's still somewhat higher than full employment.

But, of course, that's only part of the picture, because people don't just need jobs, they need good ones. On that front, recovery from the Recession is probably still unfinished. Median household incomes are likely still lower than they were in 2007, although we don't have the final data for 2016 yet. 

So, in summary, no matter how you measure it, US employment is low, but could be lower, and median household income is rising, but not yet to all-time highs. And if we could agree on these facts, maybe we could move forward with the discussion about how to continue or even expand this economic recovery.

Okay, not American Nerdfighter, I'm sorry that this was such an American video, but we're having just a smidge of a political discourse crisis over here. Let me know in comments, what non-American topics I could cover next week to make it up to you.

Okay Hank, I'm off to go see the movie Hidden Figures for a second time, because I liked it that much. Maybe also let me know in the comments what your favorite Oscar-contending movies are, my favorites are Hidden Figures and Moonlight.

Hank, thanks for keeping me employed all these years. I'll see you on Friday.