March 9th, 2015
from the Richmond Fed
In the U.S. labor market unemployed individuals that are actively looking for work are more than three times as likely to become employed as those individuals that are not actively looking for work and are considered to be out of the labor force (OLF). Yet, on average, every month twice as many people make the transition from OLF to employment than do from unemployment to employment. These observations on labor market transitions suggest that the standard unemployment rate and its extensions proposed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are both too coarse and too narrow as measures of resource utilization in the labor market.
These measures are too narrow since they exclude a large part of the population that is potentially employable, and they are too coarse since they assume the same labor force attachment for all nonemployed individuals. We construct a measure of resource utilization in the labor market, a nonemployment index, that is both comprehensive and accounts for differences in labor force attachment. Prior to 2007, the standard unemployment rate was highly correlated with our nonemployment index but, during the recession of 2007--09 and its aftermath, the standard unemployment rate overstated the extent of underutilization in the labor market.