A closer look at discouraged and marginally attached workers

When we talk about unemployment in the US, we usually think about the percent of workers that are actively looking for a job, but don’t have one (U-3). Currently, this rate is 8.1 percent nationally, and 7.9 percent in Colorado. There are other measures of unemployment (U-4, U-5 and U-6) , however, that analysts look at in order to develop a broader understanding of current economic conditions.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released an updated estimate of state level discouraged and marginally attached workers. According to BLS:

Discouraged workers (U-4, U-5, and U-6 measures) are persons who are not in the labor force, want and are available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They are not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the prior 4 weeks, for the specific reason that they believed no jobs were available for them. The marginally attached (U-5 and U-6 measures) are a group that includes discouraged workers. The criteria for the marginally attached are the same as for discouraged workers, with the exception that any reason could have been cited for the lack of job search in the prior 4 weeks. Persons employed part time for economic reasons (U-6 measure) are those working less than 35 hours per week who want to work full time, are available to do so, and gave an economic reason (their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job) for working part time. These individuals are sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers.

In the following chart I use BLS data to show how Colorado fares relative to the 8 states with the highest and lowest rate of discouraged and marginally attached workers.

Nationally, Colorado’s 6.6 percent ranks 22nd. Discouraged and marginally attached workers abound on the west coast. Smaller states tend to see the lowest rates.


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