Reindexing The Unemployment Rate By America's Population Growth Yields Some Ugly Results

Tyler Durden's picture

One of the more peculiar phenomena in the current Great Recession has been the persistent drop in the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate, after averaging around 66.5% for the past 20 years, in the past 18 months it has plunged, and despite a marginal improvement over the past several months, is still at 65.2%. This is counterintuitive when one analyzes the data side by side with the overall civilian population in the United States. An indexed chart, using the January 2000 level as a baseline demonstrates that while the US population has been climbing at a fairly steady arithmetic growth rate, the civilian labor force, which should track the changes in the actual population, has been behaving in an erratic pattern, having more to do with BLS data interpretation and the nuances of the business cycle than demographics. Which is why when reindexing data for nominal changes in the US rate of population growth, yields some troubling variations from the just disclosed 9.9% unemployment rate. Basing the adjustment to the unemployment rate on nothing but a statistical regression to the growth of America over the past ten years, would yield an unemployment rate of 12.7%. More troubling is that the underemployment rate would be a number far higher than the 17.1% disclosed for April. According to our calculations, a reading closer to 22% would be more appropriate to represent the level of real joblessness in the US. A number, which is higher than the corresponding metric in austerity-ridden Spain.

First, we demonstrate the labor force participation rate. The most recent disclosed reading of 65.2% is materially different from the 20 year average of 66.4%.

Of course, the US population isn't static. It grows constantly, and according to the BLS, the Civilian Noninstitutional Population has increased from 211.4 million in January 2000, to 237.3 million in April 2010. This is a 12.3% change, which is nearly 50% compared to the change in the Civilian Labor Force, which has increased from 142.2 million to 154.7 million, or an 8.7% change.

Showing this graphically yields the following chart: an indexed comparison of these two very interlinked series demonstrates that while the civilian population has grown in a pretty much straight line, the same can not be said for the Civilian Labor force. Of course, for the US economy to be able to sustain the influx in the population without forming any surplus aberrations, these two lines have to be matched as close together as possible. To be sure, one can make the argument that as society has gotten more efficient, the need for the labor force has declined. The problem with that is that there is an increasingly larger buffer of perpetually unemployed people who will be a drag on the social safety net of America, where there is no free lunch, even in the massive field of government spending. Alternatively, many of these people work in the shadow economy where they pay exactly zero taxes.

Using the above data, and knowing the indexed differential between where the labor force probably is based on the growth of the US population, and what the BLS would like us to believe the Labor Force Participation rate is (as low as possible to keep the actual unemployment number as low as possible as well), we can determine that the real unemployment rate, using an expanded Labor Force, and thus a larger pool of unemployed people, yields an unemployment rate (U-3) of 12.7%. This is about 28.6% larger than the officially reported 9.9%.

And where the discrepancy gets really scary, is when the U-6 underemployment or "real" unemployment rate is comparably reindexed. Instead of the reported 17.1%, we obtain a number that would put even double-dip Spain to shame. Real "real" unemployment is 22% of the civilian labor force, or a whopping 34 million people who are "unemployed, marginally attached, plus total employed
part time for economic reasons." This excludes the roughly 80 million people who are not part of the labor force to begin with.

One last parting thought, or as the case may be, chart, is the distribution by weekly duration of unemployment buckets within the unemployed universe. As the chart below shows, out of the 15.3 million unemployed (U-3 definition), the average duration of unemployment has shot up to 33 weeks. The number of people who are unemployed for 27 weeks or more has hit a stunning 45.9%. At this rate, more than half of the unemployed pool will have been out of a job for more than half a year in a month or two. The skills that these workers lose due to inactivity is massive, and represents a tremendous hit to total US productivity. And, unfortunately, as the chart below shows, there are no signs that any moderation for the ever-increasing length of average unemployment is anywhere in sight.

The reason why unemployment is and will be the scourge of the propaganda machine, is that while banks may provide mortgages to individuals with below average incomes and other potential black marks, this time around, having a job will be necessary. If we are right, and if indeed almost 30-some million people have at best recourse to the occasional temp worker paycheck, this will wreak havoc with the first derivative for the US "tail wags dog" economy where housing, and untenable and enslaving housing debt more specifically, is the critical support pillar of the ponzi scheme. Without an improvement in unemployment metrics, there can be no general economic, or sustainable market, improvement, period.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
hedgeless_horseman's picture

Lies, damn lies, and statistics.  Can we have a ZeroHedge survey?  I am fully employed.  For N=1, ZHU3=0%..

Problem Is's picture

Lies, damn lies and the BLS...

Anecdotal Economist's picture

BLS technically is the fifth degree of deception, as in:

White Lies, Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, Government Statistics and Campaign Promises.

Apostate's picture

Excellent chart-crunching, Tyler.

There's also the many people who are just bad workers. Drug addicts (of the wrong kind - wink wink), alcoholics, fatties, elderly people, and the overly-stressed. Those people are substandard workers, and won't be able to retire.

The politicians can say "let 'em all die," but then what? And what of these incumbents promising federal dollars that may not be worth anything?

Fraudulent firms abound, especially at the lower end. Boiler rooms (not just in finance) are all over the place to a degree that I've never seen before. Politically-connected real estate developers are throwing up buildings Dubai-style.

I mean, what the fuck, right? I thought this was supposed to be a civilized place.

Funny thing, though... last night, I ate dinner at a cheap Mexican place that I used to haunt. One of the dinner table conversations (retired boomers) were discussing whether or not to pull out of SLV.

The other table (apparently a bunch of lefty radio people) were actually discussing the Federal Reserve...

Strange times. Keep up the good work. 

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

I would like to take a moment to berate Bill Clinton.  He promised health care on campaign, and then the first thing he did in office was to do what Herbert Walker had tried to do for years; he passed NAFTA.  Bill Clinton screwed us over, and never balanced a budget except for one year; and he had to shut the government down for weeks and weeks to accomplish that.  Oh, and it was Summers and Rubin, yes Barry's Summers and Rubin, who gave Clinton the NAFTA command.  Pile on WTO, etc, etc....

"There are no jobs!" -Gerald Celente

moneymutt's picture

+1000...Bill gave us all that, welfare reform, and then there was the train wreck W...surprising we even still have a country, may not for long...

geopol's picture

The US and the world are gripped by a deepening economic depression. There is no recovery and no automatic business cycle which will revive the economy. This bottomless depression will worsen until policies are reformed. The depression results from deregulated and globalized financial speculation, especially the $1.5 quadrillion world derivatives bubble. The US industrial base has been gutted, and the US standard of living has fallen by almost two thirds over the last four decades. We must reverse this trend of speculation, de-industrialization, and immiseration. Current policy bails out bankers, but harms working people, industrial producers, farmers, and small business. We must defend civil society and democratic institutions from the effects of high unemployment and economic breakdown. We therefore demand:

1. Measures to reduce speculation and minimize the burden of fictitious capital: End all bailouts of banks and financial institutions. Claw back the TARP and other public money given or lent to financiers. Abolish the notion of too big to fail; JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Wells Fargo and other Wall Street zombie banks are insolvent and must be seized by the FDIC for chapter 7 liquidation, with derivatives eliminated by triage. Re-institute the Glass-Steagall firewall to separate banks, brokerages, and insurance. Ban credit default swaps and adjustable rate mortgages. To generate revenue and discourage speculation, levy a 1% Tobin tax (securities transfer tax or trading tax) on all financial transactions including derivatives (futures, options, indices, and over the counter derivatives), stocks, bonds, foreign exchange, and commodities, especially program trading, high-frequency trading, and flash trading. Set up a 15% reserve requirement for all OTC derivatives. Use Tobin tax revenue and a revived corporate income tax to provide immediate tax relief to individuals, families, the self-employed, and small business by increasing personal exemptions and standard deductions. Stop all foreclosures on primary residences, businesses, and farms for five years or the duration of the depression, whichever lasts longer. Set a 10% maximum rate of interest on credit cards and payday loans. Re-regulate commodities markets with 100% margin requirements, position limits, and anti-speculation protections for hedgers and end users to prevent oil and gasoline price spikes. Enforce labor laws and anti-trust laws against monopolies and cartels. Restore individual chapter 11.

2. Measures to nationalize the Federal Reserve, cut federal borrowing, and provide 0% federal credit for production: Seize the Federal Reserve and bring it under the US Treasury as the National Bank of the United States, no longer the preserve of unelected and unaccountable cliques of incompetent and predatory bankers. The size of the money supply, interest rates, and approved types of lending must be determined by public laws passed and debated openly, passed by the congress and signed by the president. Stop US government borrowing from zombie banks and foreigners — let the US government function as its own bank. Reverse current policy by instituting 0% federal LENDING with preferential treatment for tangible physical production and manufacturing of goods and commodities, to include industry, agriculture, construction, mining, energy production, transportation, infrastructure building, public works, and scientific research, but not financial services and speculation. Issue successive tranches of $1 trillion as needed to create 30 million union-wage productive jobs and attain full employment for the first time since 1945, reversing the secular decline in the US standard of living. Provide 0% credit to reconvert idle auto and other plants and re-hire unemployed workers to build modern rail, mass transit, farm tractors, and aerospace equipment, including for export. Extend 0% federal credit for production to small businesses like auto and electronics repair shops, dry cleaners, restaurants, tailors, family farms, taxis, and trucking. Maintain commercial credit for retail stores. Create an unlimited rediscount guarantee by the National Bank for public works projects to provide cash to local banks for bills of exchange pertaining to infrastructure and public works. Repatriate the foreign dollar overhang by encouraging China, Japan, and other dollar holders to place orders for US-made capital goods and modern hospitals. Revive the US Export-Import Bank. Set up a 10% tariff to protect domestic re-industrialization. Nationalize and operate GM, Chrysler, CIT, and other needed but insolvent firms as a permanent public sector. Maintain Amtrak and USPS.

3. Measures to re-industrialize, build infrastructure, develop science drivers, create jobs, and restore a high-wage economy: state and local governments and special government agencies modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority will be prime contractors for an ambitious program of infrastructure and public works subcontracted to the private sector. To deal with collapsing US infrastructure, modernize the US electrical grid and provide low-cost energy with 100 fourth generation, pebble bed, high temperature reactors of 1,000 to 2,000 megawatts each. Rebuild the rail system with 50,000 miles of ultra-modern maglev Amtrak rail reaching into every state. Rebuild the entire interstate highway system to 21st century standards. Rebuild drinking water and waste water systems nationwide. Promote canal building and irrigation. For health care, build 1,000 500-bed modern hospitals to meet the minimum Hill-Burton standards of 1946. Train 250,000 doctors over the next decade. The Davis-Bacon Act will mandate union pay scales for all projects. For the farm sector, provide a debt freeze for the duration of the crisis, 0% federal credit for working capital and capital improvements, a ban on foreclosures, and federal price supports at 110% of parity across the board, with farm surpluses being used for a new Food for Peace program to stop world famine and genocide. Working with other interested nations, invest $100 billion each in: biomedical research to cure dread diseases; high energy physics (including lasers) to develop fusion power and beyond; and a multi-decade NASA program of moon-Mars manned exploration, permanent colonization, and industrial production. These science drivers will provide the technological spin-offs to modernize the entire US economy in the same way that the NASA moon shot gave us microchips and computers in the 1960s. These steps will expand and upgrade the national stock of capital goods and enhance the real productivity of US labor. Return the federal budget and foreign trade to surplus in 5 years or less.

4. Measures to defend and expand the social safety net: Restore all cuts; full funding at improved levels for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, jobless benefits, WIC, Head Start, and related programs. Offer Medicare for All to anyone under 65 who wants it at $100 per person per month, with reduced rates for families, students, and the unemployed. Pay for this with Tobin tax revenues and TARP clawback, and by ending the Iraq and Afghan wars. Seek to raise life expectancy by five years for starters. No rationing or death panels; savings can come only by finding cures. Quickly reach a $15 per hour living wage. Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act and affirm the right to organize. Pass card check to promote collective bargaining.

5. Measures to re-launch world trade and promote world recovery: Create a new world monetary system including the euro, the yen, the dollar, and the ruble, plus emerging Arab and Latin American regional currencies, with fixed exchange rates and narrow bands of fluctuation enforced by participating governments. Institute clearing and gold settlement among member states. Replace the IMF with a Multilateral Development Bank to finance world trade and infrastructure. The goal of the system must be to re-launch world trade through exports of high-technology capital goods, especially to sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and the poorer parts of Latin America. Promote a world Marshall Plan of great projects of world infrastructure, including: a Middle East reconstruction and development program; plans for the Ganges-Bramaputra, Indus, Mekong, Amazon, and Nile-Congo river basins; bridge-tunnel combinations to span the Bering Strait, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Malacca, the Sicilian narrows, and connect Japan to the Asian mainland; second Panama canal and Kra canals; Eurasian silk road, Cape to Cairo/Dakar to Djibouti, Australian coastal, and Inter-American rail projects, and more. American businesses will receive many of these orders, which means American jobs.

This program will create 30 million jobs in less than five years. It will end the depression, rebuild the US economy, improve wages and standards of living, re-start productive investment, and attain full employment with increased levels of capital investment per job. Most orders placed under this program will go to US private sector bidders. Because of the vastly increased volume of goods put on the market, inflation will not result.

hedgeless_horseman's picture

For N=4, ZHU3=75%.  This is not looking so good.

pan-the-ist's picture

Does professional pundit count as a job?

(I jest. Geopol probably has a job too.)

dumpster's picture

all of the above will not be a cure..

minimum wage policys and the like , unemployment   take the life out of the system .. making it impossible for capital and workers to find its own level '

the Keynesian system is an ass backward way to solve any problem .

we keep digging this hole and think by doing the same thing only with grander ideas the problem will helped

Rusty_Shackleford's picture


What are we supposed to do?

Stop digging?

We have to do something!!!



The Alarmist's picture

"Liberalism," to quote a famous conservative, "is the most gutless choice one can make .... " All you have to do is feel concern and have good intentions.

To wit, the minimum wage: How much is enough?  How about a million dollars for every person in the land?  Who cares where it is actually coming from, what is really important is that we want to give a hand to those who truly need it.

To paraphrase another famous conservative, "Socialism works fine until you run out of someone else's money to spend."


AchtungAffen's picture

You should also ask yourself, how much less is enough. Everybody would love to be able to pay sweat-shop wages. Your system would work just fine until you're out of people to exploit.

moneymutt's picture

just get the damn parasites off our back and we'll be fine...If Abe could fight civil war and build infrastructure, we can figure this out as long as banksters aren't in charge, solution will present themselves..

dumpster's picture

a cure in unemploymnet


in a division of labor society , there is no limit to the number of workers that can be employed .. What is needed is an approprite level of money wage rates

mass unemplyment , like all shortages is the product of the government thwarting the operation of the market particpents .

also by the policy of inflation , which will result in monetary contraction .... yadda yadda yadda

hedgeless_horseman's picture

For N=5, ZHU3=80%.  Oh boy.  I may need to seasonally adjust this. 

hedgeless_horseman's picture

I have an idea!  Let's do a consumer confidence survey instead. 

Do you, or someone in your household, feel confident that you may consume something in the next 30 days?


N=1, ZHCCI: 100.

Mitchman's picture

I don't get this or your other posts.  Please explain so I can share the insight.

hedgeless_horseman's picture

Read the first post. 

Of the first 5 posters, it would appear from reading their posts that only I have a job.  So ZeroHedge U-3 unemployment rate from a sampling of 5, not seasonally adjusted, is 80%, which does not correlate with the known recovery,  so I changed the survey to the ZeroHedge Consumer Confidence Index, which at 100 does correlate to the known recovery.  See, everything is hunky dory.

Mitchman's picture

I understand your point.  Thanks.

hedgeless_horseman's picture

Are you employed?  Be honest.

Mitchman's picture

Yes.  Thank the good Lord.  In investment banking, yet!  But not trading!

Printfaster's picture

You are not employed nor productive.  You are a parasite. 

How many investment bankers were there in the US in the 1800s?  In proportion to those employed at that time?

At the end of the day, all jobs are political.  The current government rations all jobs and occupations through policy.  Some jobs like doctors and nurses are directly rationed through college.  Others are indirectly rationed through ivy league degrees.


Mitchman's picture

They didn't need investment bankers in the 1800's.  People were too busy being slave owners, killing Native Americans, pillaging one another, carpetbagging, building Trusts and acting as robber barons to engage in such jejeune pursuits like investment banking.  Besides, my children think I'm pretty nice.   

The Alarmist's picture

In other words, investment banking is merely the natural evolution of those other fine and at-the-time economically necessary professions.


Hulk's picture

reading zh a full time job, therefore 100% employment at zh

Whats that?? good point, you are concerned only with paying jobs...

Mitchman's picture

Thank you.  Too easy for me to forget about that excellent site!

WineSorbet's picture

Sorry but according to Yahoo, retailers are preparing themselves for a big comeback in consumer spending.  Jeez, where do you get your numbers?

Retailers prepare for consumer comeback

hedgeless_horseman's picture

N=2, ZHCCI: Still at 100.  Much better.

Selah's picture

The Government is committed to affordable housing.

The Government is committed to supporting high prices for homes.

Am I wrong for seeing an unattainable objective here?


cossack55's picture

The first little piggy made his house out of fiat currency certificates.  The second little piggy made his house out of US treasury notes.  But the third little piggy (who looks a lot like me) made his house out of bricks fashioned from gold.  Then the big bad Goldman-Wolf .......(finish as you wish).

RockyRacoon's picture

Stop that!  Don't use the word "gold".   There are several folks who do a page search for just that term so they can start the whole troll process again.  Aaaargh.

dumpster's picture

the government is committed to affordable housing lol

as long as this is paid for by the people .

affordable housing and government is an oxmoren

government will try to do both ,,keep prices high make affordable housing possible .

result Keynesian dog poo


moneymutt's picture

the govt does not care about affordable housing, it cares about the FIRE lobby and the banks, that wanted people to indebt themselves for you think W cared if a few percent more people bought houses? what was real idea behind "ownership society"?

topshelfstuff's picture

let me stick this link here. this series of youtubes may be the most important ones to view and absorb. i hope someone will go through this, perhaps already aware, and presents the contents to ZH as an article

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I have begun to study this subject (Reclaiming your sovereign citizenship) and I plan on writing an article on this at some point. While the speaker in this video (which I've watched among others) lays it our nicely, every time I look into this I come back with more new questions than answered questions.

Part of the problem is that so many people in the legal community give this subject short shrift, thus making it hard to find valid legal opinions from people other than those who are promoting this subject. This always makes me nervous because once I write an article I would to think I've attempted to see all sides. It's difficult to do so with this subject for the reasons described.

I shall continue to look into this if for no other reason that because it interests me from an empowerment point of view. But I make no promises of when I will write the article.

Apostate's picture

Be confident. You'll do fine. 

RockyRacoon's picture

But the Executive can still put you in jail for as long as he likes without charges.

What's the point?  Gaining sovereignty would perhaps attract attention?  So much for maintaining a low profile.

G-R-U-N-T's picture

Some hairdo this guy has.....Is that his eyebrows or just part of his hair?

acslater's picture

Hey there. This makes no sense.

Your "correction" boils down to assuming that labor force participation stayed constant over the past decade, at the 67.5% level it started at in 2000 (a full point higher than the historical average you present). It has dropped about 2.5 points over the decade. Essentially adding those 2.5 points back into U3 has the unsurprising result of increasing U3 by about 2.5 points. However, that's more mathematical identity than insight. Further, I for one find it completely reasonable to assume that labor force participation has shrunk in the past decade, which is why the U5 and U6 numbers are a bit more revealing of the actual jobs picture.

That brings me to U6. Your correction makes absolutely no sense here, because that measure it uses an entirely different "denominator" than labor force. And even if it did use labor force, multiplying U6 by 25% would not be correct; you would end up adding 2.5 points to the final amount, same as your correction for U3.

Bottom line...this is incredibly shoddy analysis.

Tyler Durden's picture

The U6 denominator is labor force + marginal attachment, which is a 2.4 million number, or a neglible amount. So something which is just barely more than 1% of the labor force is "entirely different?" And the whole analysis is of course an exercise in mathematical approximation to a reality regression, which divergence is being taken advantage of by the BLS to "moderate" the real number. However, we have said nowhere that 1% labor force participation is impossible, in fact the Obama brain trust is probably feverishly working to achieve this. With the "efficiency" churned by business and the ongoing cuts, the economy may just get there. And that will really help with both the numerator and denominator.

hedgeless_horseman's picture

Soap sales.  For N=6, ZHU3=66%.  Green shooooots!

snowball777's picture

Myself: yes, continuously since 1988. Changed jobs in Feb, intentionally.

Wife: employed FT.

Brother-in-law: unemployed for 4 months ending in Jan. and changed jobs this month (voluntarily)

Father-in-law: in the 27+ weeks category.

N=10, ZHU3= 50%

(how many hedgies don't have a college'll get very different numbers if you break things down thusly)

acslater's picture

2.4m MA workers are not negligible in the context of a barely 5m divergence in the labor force size. If I may reproduce your method here:

Labor Force 2000: 142.2m (67.2%)

Labor Force 2010: 154.7m (65.0%)

Labor Force 2010 assuming 67.2% rate = 159.62

U3 if denominator counted as 159.62m =12.7%.

So far so good.

In 2000 there were 1.2m marginally attached workers, and now there are about 2.4m, as you said.

LF+MA 2000: 143.4m (67.8%)

LF+MA 2010: 157.1m (66.2%)

LF+MA 2010 assuming 67.8% rate = 160.96m

U6 if denominator counted as 160.96m = 19.1%

Your adjusted U6: 22%

You "adjusted" U6 by just applying a 28% bump. That is not valid, because you failed to account for the fact that the participation rate drops to some extent because workers become marginally attached. As a result you overstate the divergence by more than double. That is what I meant when I said the numbers are entirely different.

By the way, I stand on my originally complaint that this is a meaningless exercise, since all you've succeeded in demonstrating is that labor force participation in fact , decreased, which is perfectly expected in a recession.