The unemployment rate for March climbed to 8.5%, the highest level in a quarter-century. Our economy has lost an average of 684,000 jobs per month since November 2008.
This unemployment rate (known as U-3) significantly understates the actual degree of unemployment. For example, it counts people involuntarily working part time as fully employed and it does not count people that want to work but have given up looking for work.
The government does have an alternative measure of unemployment that corrects for these shortcomings, known as U-6. The March U-6 rate was 15.4%. That is some 25 million workers.
One reason for the growing disparity between the U-3 and U-6 rates is that companies have been slashing hours. The average workweek fell to a seasonally adjusted 33.2 hours, the lowest level on record. Since the beginning of the downturn, the number of people forced to work part-time has grown by 5.4 million workers.