What Do Unemployment Numbers Really Mean?

Feb 17, 2015

Credit Michael Carian / Flickr

Earlier this month the unemployment numbers were announced. Over two-hundred thousand jobs were added to the economy. While this is good news why do so many people feel we’re still in the recession? Robert Morris University Economics Professor Brian O’Roark explains how unemployment is assessed and who counts as “unemployed.”

Unemployment assessments are done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. O’Roark says that the official ranks of the unemployed do not simply include people who don’t have jobs.

Being unemployed in the technical definition means that not only are you out of a job, but you are actively looking for work, as well. This is the U3 unemployment figure, the one that’s most commonly reported.

But there are other possibilities when it comes to assessing unemployment; O’Roark mentions a category called U6, which includes “discouraged workers,” or those who are unemployed but have effectively stopped looking for work, as well as part-time workers who would prefer full-time employment.

Like any statistic, though, unemployment figures just don’t tell the whole story, O’Roark says:

“Every number that we hear reported is going to have some problems with it. … For Pittsburgh, we look at these national numbers -- or even state numbers -- and those numbers don’t necessarily tell the story of where we live.”