THE HEADLINES for Katie Johston’s Feb. 8 front-page article - “Missing: 5.4 million workers; Many nationwide have simply given up looking for work, and in Mass. the number of hidden unemployed has doubled’’ - are ripe for misuse by right-wing pundits and politicians. The article itself usefully highlights the often unseen plight of those who’ve given up on the job market. It’s a sad story, but some may conclude from the headlines that statistics describing this problem have been buried. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has always tracked this number as the U-6 rate of unemployment. But headlines always report the so-called official, or U-3, rate. Both rates go up and down with economic conditions, so it’s most useful to report the same number, U-3, over time. Shifting to focus on the U-6 number as a measure of the direction of the recovery would be deeply misleading.
Those who wish to mislead in a political season would declare that the most recent jobs report was actually a conspiracy by the president’s minions to fake the numbers. Indeed, Mitt Romney quickly responded to the news by citing the U-6 number.