Lens Report Leads To Improved State Unemployment Data

Lens Report Leads To Improved State Unemployment Data
Unemployment, particularly as more broadly defined under the federal U-6 classification, remains a challenge for a number of U.S. states. That includes Washington. Following up on a recent Lens report, the state's Employment Security Department (ESD), is now including U-6 data in its unemployment reporting. Photo: KOMUnews.

The Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) is now reporting a broader measure of unemployment in the state known as U-6 unemployment, following a recent Lens article in which lawmakers suggested the agency should do so. ESD Director of Communications Janelle Guthrie emailed Lens that in the department’s latest unemployment report, “This month, we included alternative measures of unemployment as your article suggests. We also now list this on our labor market information pages.”

The difference matters. As Lens earlier reported: “U-3 unemployed are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as those who have recently searched for work and could start working if offered a job. The U-6 classification is U-3s plus the unemployed who haven’t recently looked for work, and ‘involuntary’ part-timers who want full-time work.”

A range of economists and workforce analysts have continued to accent the importance of the U-6 figure nationally and for states because it shows the fuller extent of unemployment and under-employment. Reported quarterly, U-6 has been running about 5 percentage points higher – or nearly double – U-3 unemployment in Washington.

Expanded Unemployment Data Reporting By State

Now, in response to the Lens article highlighting the reporting gap, in its latest monthly unemployment data report, ESD includes a new section (on p. 4) which shows recent and historical U-6 data for Washington and the U.S.

The data show that the state has had a greater U-6 rate than the nation by a modest margin from 2014 through the first half of 2016, and by a wider gap from mid-2009 to early 2013.

From the new state report, it is also possible to compare and contrast U-3 and U-6 rates within Washington.

Lawmaker Praises ESD Move

In the earlier Lens article, one lawmaker who expressed concern about the lack of U-6 data reported by ESD was State Sen. John Braun (R-20), Vice Chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Informed about the change by ESD, Braun told Lens, “…it’s providing us more information that helps us better understand our unemployment situation. That would be a good thing.”

Braun added, “Anytime you are able to better compare our performance in Washington state to the national average or national performance I think that gives us a much deeper understanding of what we are doing right and how to improve employment opportunities for our citizens.”

State’s U-6 Standing Worsens, Nationally

There is a kicker. Although new federal data show Washington held steady from the second to third quarters of 2016 on U-6 unemployment, at 10.7 of the civilian labor force, more states lowered their rates. As a result, Washington has moved higher on U-6 unemployment compared to others.

New rolling four-quarter data from BLS covering the last quarter of 2015 through the third quarter of 2016 show that Washington now is tied for the ninth-highest U-6 unemployment rate in the nation.

The only states with higher U-6 rates than Washington over that span were Alaska (13 percent), New Mexico (12.5 percent), Nevada (12.5 percent), California (11.6 percent), Connecticut (11.1 percent), West Virginia (11 percent), Illinois (11 percent), and Arizona (10.9 percent). Tied with Washington at 10.7 percent was Louisiana. The overall U.S. U-6 rate for the period was 9.8 percent.

In the last similar 50-state measure of U-6 data, covering third quarter of last year through this year’s midpoint, Washington was 13th highest nationally in U-6 unemployment.

For September, according to ESD, the state’s baseline or U-3 unemployment rate was 5.6, compared to a U.S. rate of 5.0.

Addressing Unemployment

The state offers job seekers important opportunities to harness labor market information in their search process, and provides job-matching services and a training resource hub through WorkSource.

Educators and employers in Washington increasingly emphasize not only preparation for highly skilled and technical jobs, but also other pathways to secure employment. Getting more emphasis are preparation for work in the trades, and in mid-skilled tech positions through programs at community colleges and high school career and technical education (CTE) courses.


Additional reporting by Mike Richards.

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