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Monday, October 20, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 3/29/2009

Jobless, by the numbers

UNEMPLOYMENT rates dropped in Toledo, Lucas County, and several surrounding counties in northwest Ohio in February. That's good news, especially in light of increases last month in the jobless rates for Ohio as a whole and the nation.

Still, these rates, whether they move up or down, fail to take into account millions more people from Bangor to Honolulu who are underemployed, have exhausted their unemployment benefits, or have dropped out of the job market altogether in despair.

Nationally, 12.5 million people were identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as unemployed in February. That's 8.1 percent of the total labor force of some 154 million workers. Another 2.1 million were identified as "marginally attached" to the labor force, meaning they want a job but haven't looked in the last four weeks. Of those, 731,000 were what are called "discouraged workers," a euphemism for people who have given up looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

And according to the Labor Department, an additional 8.6 million people were working part time, many because their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find full-time employment.

In other words, if everyone who wanted a full-time job but didn't have one was added to the recently unemployed who are still actively seeking work, the national jobless and underemployed rate would jump to 15.1 percent, or nearly one out of every six members of the work force.

If 12.5 million jobless Americans is a crisis, then 8.6 million people forced to work part time (likely without benefits) is an outrage and 2.1 million people having given up on finding a job is a national disaster.

The sampling techniques used to determine marginal, discouraged, and underemployed workers don't allow the same math to be applied to joblessness in Toledo, Lucas County, or at the local level anywhere, but if they were, it would translate into about one out of every four workers in the city and county currently being out of work or having to work part time. That's a frightening statistic.

Labor Department economist Benjamin Collins told Blade staff writer Larry Vellequette that the rate just illustrated doesn't get as much play because it's only been tabulated for 15 years and isn't as useful a figure, but we would contend that it is more useful because it disabuses people of the false notion that unemployment is still relatively low by historical standards.

Knowing the full extent of the problem won't by itself create more jobs. But it will increase the sense of urgency that measures need to be taken, and quickly, to put America back to work.



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