Current U-6 Unemployment Rate

Current U-6 Unemployment Rate is 8.9% (BLS)

Current U-6 Unemployment Rate:

U3 vs U6 Unemployment ChartFor January 2017 the official Current U-6 unemployment rate was 8.9% up sharply from 8.0% in December, 7.7% in November and 7.6% in October.  It was also 8.9% in June and July 2017. Typically unemployment peaks in January and then again in July so we are probably just seeing some of the typical cyclical fluctuations.

U-6 Unemployment peaked 1 year ago at 10.1% in January 2017. 

Effective July 2017, the independently produced Gallup equivalent called the “Underemployment Rate” is no longer being published.  However, Gallup was typically 4% – 4.5% higher than the BLS numbers.

What is U-6?

U-6 is a broader measure of unemployment including discouraged workers and many consider U-6 to be”the Real Unemployment Rate” See: What is U-6 Unemployment? for the full definition of U-6 Unemployment.

As you can see from the chart below, the unadjusted U-6 unemployment rate was 15.2% in December 2011 and 14.4% in December 2012. By July it bounced up again to  15.2% and in October the U-6 miraculously fell back to 13.9% just in time for the election. But by January 2013 it was back to 15.4%. By January 2014 it was at 13.5% and by October 2014 it was down to the 11% range. In January 2015 it bounced back up to 12% but promptly returned to 10.4% by April.

Comparing U3 to U6

If you look at the chart below carefully you will see that the current (Unadjusted)  U-3 unemployment rate is 4.5% which is finally in the range of the U-3 rate from 2006-2008. But with the increase in population the numbers don’t add up. See Current Employment for more on this.

You may also notice that when unemployment rises the gap between U-3 and U-6 also rises. For instance, in October 2000, unemployment was at the lowest levels on this chart with U-3  at 3.6% and U-6 was at 6.3%. For a difference of only 2.7%.  But  at the peak of unemployment in January 2010 U-3 was at 10.6% but U-6 shot all the way up to 18% for a difference of 7.4%.

The following chart is a comparison of the Official Unemployment Rate U-3 to the broader U-6 Unemployment rate. We can see that U-6 is always higher than the often quoted U-3 “Unemployment Rate”.

U3 vs U6 UnemploymentClick for larger Image

 This is primarily because as times get more difficult, increasingly people give up looking for jobs. When the good times are rolling and jobs are plentiful it is easy to get a job so even the causal applicant will have a job.  But this leads us back to the question… Why do we have a U-3 number at all? Aren’t all U-6 people unemployed? But during bad times like the recent few years it is scary to hear the Unemployment rate is 18% (U-6) but less scary if the number you hear is “only” 10.6% (U-3) so the government prefers the U-3 number and unfortunately the news media plays along and uses the U-3 number because it is the “Official” unemployment rate.

In the chart below we have subtracted the U3 unemployment rate from the U6 unemployment rate and so we see the differential. When the differential is low it is easier to find a job (i.e. everyone who wants one can find one). Recently, commentators have been claiming that we are approaching “full employment” i.e. when everyone who wants a job can find one but this chart indicates that although we’ve seen a significant drop to a 4% differential between the U-6 and unadjusted U-3 we still have another 1% to go before we reach the levels of 2000 and 2006.

Click for larger Image

For More information: 

How do Gallup unemployment numbers compare to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers. See: Is the Government Fudging Unemployment Numbers?

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from 1948 to the present is one of the most watched statistics. Where is it now and should you trust it? See: Unemployment Rate Chart

How many jobs are there actually? This chart shows Employment since Jan 2000 and what the current trend is and may be more accurate than the unemployment numbers. Current Employment Data

Historical Employment Data Chart– How Many People Are Actually Employed? This chart shows the actual employment rate without all the mumbo-jumbo. It gives a clear picture of  the employment level in the United States from 1939 to the Present. When employment is rising the economy is growing. When the employment rate levels off or declines times are not so good. Take a look and see how employment rates correspond to recessions over time.

What is “Full Employment” and are we really getting close? Is the U.S. Really at “Full Employment”?

Misery Index– Created by economist Arthur Okun to help gauge the level of misery the average person is suffering. It is a combination of the inflation rate and the unemployment rate.


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Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics- U-6 Unemployment Rate


  1. michael reiter says:

    You are right! The U-6 rate should be the true unemployment rate, not U-3!

  2. Windriven says:

    Unemployment numbers are useful but incomplete. Income and especially disposable income are also important. BLS has a useful monograph that includes a chart plotting productivity and real compensation ( Real compensation began lagging productivity increases in the early 70s and the differential has grown steadily.

    This is important because this recession is marked by a breathtaking disconnect between burgeoning global supply and tepid domestic demand (people with no jobs or low paying jobs cannot afford to consume at the same level as fully employed people). Credit discounted far below its natural level has propped up demand somewhat but that party has to come to an end. What happens as credit pricing returns to historically normal levels?

    We have been borrowing against the future rather than addressing the structural problems created by moving millions of domestic jobs to low cost foreign venues. Those domestic workers don’t simply disappear, only their jobs disappear.

  3. Thanks for continuing to watch these numbers and break them down. From adjusted historical data to large shifts around election time, it is difficult to not view official numbers without a skeptical eye. I wish that were not the case.

  4. Dink Singer says:

    “By July [2012] it bounced up again to 15.2% and in October the U-6 miraculously fell back to 13.9% just in time for the election. But by January 2013 it was back to 15.4%.”

    No miracle, just the normal seasonal variations. Seasonally adjusted numbers are published to allow month to month comparisons. It is only valid to compare unadjusted numbers to the same month in other years. The seasonally adjusted numbers are July – 14.8%, October – 14.4%, and January 14.5%.

    • Except the seasonal variation doesn’t normally start until the November hiring for Black Friday not in September or October. If you look at the numbers closely like we do, compared to previous years they look fishy.

  5. Rick Taylor says:

    So what is the real rate; 10 or 15?

    It is important to create an accurate stat.

  6. Using the UE rates in 06-08 which basically reflected an artificial boom driven by overvalued housing and dodgy debt is still misleading. Are you suggesting that we need to go back to a time when the economy looked great but was a deck of cards?

    • What do you mean “go back”… the economy is still a house of cards or an inflated balloon looking for a pin. The FED simply papered over the problem by substituting Government debt for private debt. It didn’t allow market forces to punish the foolish and eliminate the debt, it simply shuffled the cards, thereby moving the dodgy part somewhere else. The systemic rot is still there. By postponing the inevitable it simply made the problem worse. Just wait…

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