04/10/2012 10:57 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2012

Duncan Hunter Wants Government To Recognize 'True' Unemployment Rate

WASHINGTON -- California Republican Rep. Duncan D. Hunter wants the government to recognize the 'true' unemployment rate, a more accurate measure of joblessness Hunter says is being suppressed by politicians who can't handle the truth about the economy.

"In order to effectively address the economic challenges we face, and confront the national unemployment situation, we must know the full extent of the problem," Hunter said in a statement on his website. "As some pundits and politicians cite a near 8 percent unemployment rate, they are purposely avoiding a subset of Americans who are not counted."

Yet the U.S. Labor Department already counts this subset of Americans. Hunter introduced legislation in March that would make the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics swap the official unemployment rate for one of the alternate rates it releases alongside it every month.

The standard unemployment rate, known as "U-3," counts people as unemployed only if they looked for work sometime in the past four weeks. The alternate rate Hunter has in mind, called "U-5," includes people who looked for work in the past year, but not in the past four weeks, as well as "discouraged workers" not looking for work because they believe none is available.

If those groups are included in the calculation, the national unemployment rate would be 9.6 percent instead of 8.2 percent. The Hill noted the higher rate would be "a potentially devastating assessment for the White House, especially in an election year."

Hunter just wants the truth: "We need real numbers, not D.C. numbers," he told Fox News last week.

Of course, both the U-3 number and the U-5 number come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. While the U-5 rate is always higher than the U-3 rate, over time it tells the same story. Compare graphs of the two rates, starting with the official rate, going back ten years:


Here's the U-5 rate:


Oddly, Hunter's bill neglects the most inclusive measure of unemployment, the U-6 rate, which counts the 7.7 million people working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs. Add those folks, and the national unemployment rate would be 14.5 percent.

"This may well be the most obscure claim about manipulating government statistics yet," economist Dean Baker, co-director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research, said in an email. "There are broader measures of labor market slack that economists routinely examine in addition to the unemployment rate. Perhaps these should get more attention, but they are already fully available to anyone who goes to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. It would be great if the government put all the information it was wrongly trying to conceal there."

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