Chart: What’s the real unemployment rate?

The U.S. Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in May—but does that rate tell the real story?

A number of economists look past the “main” unemployment rate to a different figure the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “U-6,” which it defines as “total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of all civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.”

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In other words, the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged — a rate that still remains high.


The U-6 rate fell slightly in May to 12.2 percent. While it is down 160 basis points over the last year, the trend has been somewhat more volatile than in the main unemployment rate, which steadily declined.

Over the last 18 months, the U-6 rate has changed by at least four-tenths of a point from month to month five times.

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