Published — May 18, 2009 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Employment is worse than you think


Everyone knows it’s a tough economy out there. But it may be even tougher than you realize. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13.7 million people were unemployed as of April 2009. But if you dig deeper, you get a much, much bigger number. Adding up all the people who want jobs, or want to work more hours, there are 24.7 million people looking for work. And there are just 2.7 million jobs open.

Those 13.7 million people counted as unemployed translate into an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. A person has to have actively sought work within the last four weeks to be classified as unemployed. People who have given up looking for work don’t factor into the tally, as PaperTrail has previously discussed.

Those folks are, however, counted in the Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization, one of the many often-overlooked charts that come out along with the marquee unemployment numbers each month. In April, there were 2.1 million “marginally attached” people, who wanted and looked for work within the last year (not seasonally adjusted). That includes 740,000 “discouraged workers,” who have given up looking for work because they think there are no jobs available. Then there are also the people who are working part time for economic reasons, meaning that they’d like to be working full time, but either can’t find full time work or can’t get enough hours at their current job. In April, that was 8.9 million people. And remember, none of those people count as unemployed.

All those workers might have good reason to be discouraged. As of March 2009, the most recent month for which data is available, there were just 2.7 million job openings — down 300,000 from the month before. That’s the smallest number of job openings since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began calculating job openings eight years ago.

Also of note is the “quits rate,” which as one might guess, tracks the percent of people quitting their jobs. As the BLS notes, the quits rate “can serve as a barometer of workers’ willingness or ability to change jobs.” When people think they can’t get new jobs, they are more hesitant to quit the ones they have. The quits rate in March was just 1.4 percent, the lowest level since the data was first tracked.

What’s the upshot for job seekers? It’s grim. With 24.7 million people looking for work, and 2.7 million jobs open, there are 22 million people out of luck. At least for now.

The gap between people looking for work and job openings.

Read more in Inequality, Opportunity and Poverty

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