Published February 03, 2012
Three years after Obama became president, even the official unemployment rate still remains high. The newly released 8.3 percent unemployment rate is still a half a percentage point higher than when he took office.
But that still might be looking at the bright side. If we include those who have given up looking for work and those who could only find part time work, the unemployment rate stands at almost an entire percentage point higher than when Obama entered office.
In January 2009, 11.6 million Americans were out of work and 23 percent of them had been unemployed for more than six months.
Today there are 12.8 million unemployed and 43 percent have been out of a job for more than six months. The average length of unemployment has increased dramatically since even the recovery started. Back in June 2009, “only” 29 percent of the unemployed had been unemployed longer than six months.
The number of unemployed Americans last month fell by 339,000, the fifth largest drop since January 2009. But there was an even much more shockingly large number -- almost 1.2 million additional Americans were classified in January as not being in the labor force (see figure here). Unfortunately, that has been the consistent story that has made this “recovery” unique as more and more Americans have just given up looking for work.
This last number not only means that the official unemployment number is misleading, but it will also likely determine where the unemployment rate ultimately goes. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office just last week released its projected unemployment rate for the next couple of years. They predicted that the unemployment rate will be at 8.9 percent during the last quarter of 2012 and rise to 9.2 percent for the last quarter of 2013.
The Congressional Budget Office was so concerned about these people leaving the labor force that they warned that the current unemployment rate that reporters so breathlessly await at the beginning of each month is quite misleading.
At the end of last year, the CBO cautioned that the official unemployment rate was about 1.25 percentage points lower than the real rate. In January, that gap was about 1.6 percentage points.
Let’s not forget the millions of Americans who have given up looking for work or been forced to take part time jobs.
John R. Lott, Jr. is a FoxNews.com contributor. He is an economist and author of the third edition of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).