National unemployment rose to 8.5 percent in March, up from 8.1 percent in February, by the most conservative measure used by the U.S. Department of Labor. Employers cut 663,000 jobs in March. The total number of jobs lost since the official beginning of the recession in December 2007 is 5.1 million, with 3.3 million of those job losses during the past five months.
A second, more comprehensive, measure of unemployment puts the number of unemployed higher, at 15.6 percent.
The 8.5% unemployment figure represents only those people who are unemployed and seeking work. It does not include people who have given up looking for work. Even more important, it does not include people who want full-time work but are now scrambling to stay afloat with part-time jobs.
The 8.5% figure is the official unemployment rate, and is called the “U-3” figure in the Labor Department’s list of six ways to measure unemployment.
The more comprehensive “U-6” measure includes
Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers
This more comprehensive U-6 number shows unemployment at 15.6 percent in March, up from 14.8 percent in February.
All of the figures above are “seasonally adjusted.” Here’s how the Department of Labor explains seasonal adjustment:
Over the course of a year, the size of the nation’s labor force and the levels of employment and unemployment undergo sharp fluctuations due to such seasonal events as changes in weather, reduced or expanded production, harvests, major holidays, and the opening and closing of schools. The effect of such seasonal variation can be very large; seasonal fluctuations may account for as much as 95 percent of the month-to- month changes in unemployment.
The figures for non-adjusted unemployment are 9.0 percent for the “official” U-3 measure and 16.2 percent for the unofficial, but more comprehensive, U-6 measure.
By any measure, the pain of unemployment is pervasive and rising.