The real unemployment rate

The Takeaway

This story was originally reported by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

The real unemployment rate is closer to 16.5 percent, Newsweek and Slate columnist Dan Gross told PRI’s The Takeaway. That’s the Bureau of Labor’s U6 number, which takes into consideration so called “discouraged workers” who have given up looking for work, as well as people who are working part time but would like to be working full time. Overall, according to Gross, the number means that there is “one out of six adults in this country whose talents and time and skills are not being utilized anywhere near to the extent of their abilities.”

One of those “discouraged workers” is John Ferry, a web editor from Detroit, has been unemployed since 2007. Ferry says he stopped looking for work in April, because he believes the situation in Detroit makes it impossible to find a job. Still, he is constantly looking for work in some way, even if the statistics don’t count him. He says that he has applied for “everything from working at Burger King to driving a Detroit city bus, and everything in between. I mean, I’m not proud that way.”

In the meantime, Ferry is mowing lawns on vacant lots in Detroit.

The problems associated with discouraged workers extend far beyond the short-term problems of not having money. One listener of told The Takeaway that he is considering filing for social security benefits early. He knows that his benefits will be reduced, and his income would be capped if he ever found work, but he saw few other choices.

“It’s the individual stories that amount to an aggregate,” Gross points out. People’s skills degrade during unemployment, and it can be extremely difficult to get back into the work force. According to Gross, “I don’t think we have as a media culture and our political system have reckoned with what the impacts are.”

“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at

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