Monday, September 7, 2009

The Real Rate of Unemployment

The New York Times has a good story that explains why the official unemployment rate in cities across the nation, including Flint, doesn't capture the true extent of joblessness in America.

Michael Luo reports:

The official jobless rate, which garners the bulk of attention from politicians and the public, was reported on Friday to have risen to 9.7 percent in August. But to be included in that measure, which is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from a monthly nationwide survey, a worker must have actively looked for a job at some point in the preceding four weeks.

For an increasing number of people in this country who would prefer to be working, that is not the case.

It is difficult to assign an exact figure, because of limitations in the data collected by the bureau, but various measures that capture discouragement have swelled in this recession.

In the most direct measure of job market hopelessness, the bureau has a narrow definition of a group it classifies as “discouraged workers.” These are people who have looked for work at some point in the past year but have not looked in the last four weeks because they believe that no jobs are available or that they would not qualify, among other reasons. In August, there were roughly 758,000 discouraged workers nationally, compared with 349,000 in November 2007, the month before the recession officially began.
Flint's official unemployment rate was 28.6 % in June.


  1. If 28.6% is the "official" rate for Flint - I can't begin to imagine what the real rate is. It's just appalling.

  2. This number is bogus. What should matter in any analysis of social or economic matters is the metro area, not just the original core city. The City of Flint's legal boundaries no more yield a valid perspective on local socioeconomic issues than would an analysis of just the suburbs, excluding the original city.

  3. OK, I'm trying to sort this out. The BLS's most recent unemployment rate for the Flint, MI Metropolitan Statistical Area is 17.6%. Where did the 28.6% come from...was that in fact a typo for 17.6%? If so, I apologize for my prior post's argument that a number for the City only would be socially dysfunctional.

    17.6%, of course, is still plenty high.

    I think it behooves us, though, to watch out for media and bureaucratic presentations of Flint that overly focus on the negative. A review of Flint's employment picture has the potential to be all negatives and no positives.

    Flint does have its positives. They get lonely if they don't get some of the attention.

  4. JWilly, you answered the question. The 28.6 percent is the flint unemployment rate. The 17.6 percent is the metro area. I'd disagree that the social implications of the Flint only unemployment rate don't give a different perspective than the metro area, especially when the two are so divergent. The fact that probably close to 40 percent of Flint residents are jobless isn't somehow offset because fewer people are jobless in Flushing or Grand Blanc. I'd argue that the fact things change pretty dramatically the second you cross the Flint line says a lot about the local situation in terms of everything from jobs to race to government.

  5. But that has been the case since probably the early 1940s or before, and is the case in every other industrial-US metro area that I'm aware of.

    With all due respect to those who are under- or unemployed, employment per the above has always been skewed by education, social class, work history and race/skin color.

    There's nothing "new" about this "news".

    Others may not know that, though. They'll be glad to have another story about what a basket case we are.

    We don't need to be passing out ammo to those who seem to enjoy taking media-potshots at us.

  6. JWilly, I see what you mean about it not being news. It makes sense that there's always been a disparity in all kinds of things, including employment figures, between the city and the burbs. And lately I've been wondering if Flint can't improve via the strong surrounding area. The thought has always been to return all the people and jobs to Flint. But a smaller Flint that offers things to entice suburbanites to Flint might also improve the city and, eventually, lead to more jobs and people. But it seems like Flint is destined to be a much smaller place for a long time.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at