3 Facts About 9.9% Unemployment

April's unemployment numbers are out today, and it's the story of good news that won't come fast enough. Employment is up, by almost 300,000 jobs -- the best month since 2006. Unemployment is also up, to 9.9% from 9.7%. How is that possible?

Remember, the unemployment rate is a ratio of unemployed to the entire labor force, adjusted for seasonality. So job growth must outpace labor force growth to bring down the ratio. That's not happening yet, because the labor market grew by 800,000 people. That's largely good news. That more Americans are getting back into the job market probably means they see more opportunities.

Dan Indiviglio has the full rundown, replete with graphs and statistical nuggets. To make the joblessness hit home, let's translate the job situation into state population figures. For example, 15.2 million Americans are officially out of work. That is the population of Illinois plus New Mexico. Continuing with the rest of the unemployment report.

1. Population of Texas is Broadly Unemployed; New Jersey Forced to Work Part-Time
Broader unemployment rose to 17.1 -- or about 26 million people. The official unemployment rate -- known as U3 -- includes only those without jobs. The broader unemployment rate -- known as U6 -- includes people without jobs, people who have stopped looking for jobs, and people who are working part-time but want to work more. Twenty-six million Americans is basically the population of Texas.

Americans working part-time because they couldn't find full-time positions (in non-agricultural industries, only) increased by 100,000 from March to 9.15 million. To put that number in perspective, 9.15 million is more than the population of New Jersey.

2. Population of Washington State Unemployed for Half a Year
The number of people unemployed more than 27 weeks has increased over the last three months from 6.1 million to 6.5 million to 6.7 million. These 6.7 million people are a population the size of Washington state.

When people don't work for six months, their jobs skills atrophy, and they enter a vicious cycle where the length of unemployment becomes a albatross and a driver of even longer unemployment. We've never faced a situation like this and it's difficult to know exactly what public policy response is appropriate for dealing with 7 million former workers who haven't had a job in at least six months.

3. The Most Important Political Indicator
One of the key measures of economic strength -- and an important indicator for election years -- is average weekly hours and wages. They're moving, if a little slowly. Hourly earnings increased by one cent in April. Average weekly hours increased by six minutes. As David Leonhardt notes, if you multiply hours gained by the wage increase, you see average rank-and-file workers received a weekly pay increase of about $3.50 in May. Not bad, and it's likely to pick up as payrolls increase and the job market becomes more competitive.

Gains in disposable income are key for sustainable growth in demand, but they're also a salient political indicator. Gains in real disposable income are one of the most important political indicators in election years. When incomes don't grow in election years, incumbents suffer:









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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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