How the unemployment rate is calculated

October’s jobless rate, pegged at 7.3 percent, was up slightly from September. But the number’s meaning is a source of monthly public confusion. Here are some explanations.

•The arm of government that computes the unemployment rate is the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. This FAQ on the bureau’s site explains how the number is reached and what it means. It starts with the question “Why does the government collect statistics on the unemployed?” When a willing worker is unemployed, everybody loses, it explains. “Workers and their families lose wages, and the country loses the goods or services that could have been produced.” And without income to spend, one job loss can lead to another. tinyurl.com/BureauFAQ

•The opposite of an unemployment rate would be the employment rate — the percentage of available workers who actually have jobs. At About.com Economics, Jodi Beggs explains the obvious, but seldom, referenced figure. An unemployment rate of 7.3 percent means 92.7 percent of the workforce has a job, though many in that group may be working part time, or at jobs that are poorly paid, or for which they are overqualified. All those are called the underemployed. tinyurl.com/MeasuringUnemployment

•If you are underemployed, what to do? Jay MacDonald, at Bankrate.com, says it is possible in some cases to collect unemployment benefits when your job is cut way back. “The bad news is, too much part-time work could cost you your underemployment benefits,” MacDonald writes. tinyurl.com/UnderemployedBenefits

•Alternative unemployment rates abound — compiled by independent and governmental groups. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ own monthly page of “alternative measures” offers a selection of rates going as high as 13.8 percent for October. That number represents a seasonally adjusted rate for the total of the typically counted unemployed, “plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part-time for economic reasons.” That 13.8 percent figure was down from 14.5 percent in October 2012. tinyurl.com/AlternativeMeasures

•Interesting, and much-criticized, alternative numbers come from Shadowstats.com, by Walter J. “John” Williams, who contends government numbers are manipulated for political reasons. You be the judge. shadowstats.com

More in Herald Business Journal

Peoples, HomeStreet banks bump lowest salaries after tax cut

The banks with Snohomish County branches will raise minimum salaries for employees to $15 an hour.

Electroimpact cuts Mukilteo staff by 9 percent

“What we’re missing now is a monster anchor project,” the company’s VP said.

Exotic animals find compassionate care in Bothell (video)

At the Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine, vets treat snakes, hedgehogs and even kangaroos.

How can you tell if you are getting good financial advice?

Assume that it’s still the same buyer-beware market that has always existed.

Amanda Strong (left) tries on an Angel of the Winds Arena hat as she and Courtney Brown hand out gift bags after the renaming ceremony Dec. 13 in Everett. The new name replaces the Xfinity name. (Andy Bronson / Her file)
Angel of the Winds to break ground on $60M casino expansion

“We think we’re on the cusp of becoming a major resort.”

In this Dec. 20, 2017, photo, a clerk reaches to a shelf to pick an item for a customer order at the Amazon Prime warehouse, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Amazon’s potential HQ2 sites leaves many cities disappointed

And yet, some municipal leaders are looking at the bright side of being rejected.

How do you retrieve an errant Boeing 737 from a muddy slope?

Turkish authorities used cranes to lift a plane that skidded off a runway.

Don’t take economic forecasts to the bank — or the casino

Air travel delays could spur a rebirth of passenger rail service.

Emirates orders 20 more Airbus A380 jumbos, saving program

The Dubai carrier also has options to buy 16 more. The program seems safe until 2029.

Most Read