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The Real Unemployment Rate of the United States

In this era of economic woe, the question arises as to what the real unemployment rate of the United States is. You may hear various figures stating this and that, but which of them is correct? Is there any way to tell?

Trying to decipher what the real unemployment rate is in the United States will yield you several results. Some claim that it’s between five and ten percent; others, claim that it’s closer to fifteen or twenty percent. So what’s going on?

The Great Depression

During the Great Depression, there were times when the unemployment percentage hovered near twenty-five percent. Today, everyone is told that the unemployment rate is under four percent during the good times, and above eight percent for the bad times. But the way employment figures have been measured has changed since the times of the Great Depression.


Many individuals in the United States fall under the “underemployed” status. They may classify themselves as freelancers or part-time workers. As long as they work at least one hour per week, they are considered employed. Unfortunately, their standard of living does not grant them a very good lifestyle. These underemployed Americans are unlikely to have a good health insurance policy, which means if they become severely ill then they will likely develop financial difficulties. And guess what? These individuals are “technically” not considered to be unemployed, so they’re not factored into the unemployment rate. True enough, they are employed; however, during the Great Depression they would have been considered unemployed.

A Loss of Hope

You also have to take into account the individuals who once had a good full-time job, but sadly, due to various reasons lost it. These people will then likely file for unemployment benefits, and start looking for a new job. After a while, if they fail to find a new job, then they may lose hope and just give up. Since these individuals are not currently looking for a job, then they are not factored into the unemployment rate.


Individuals who are in high school or college may choose simply not to work. Perhaps they have access to money, or maybe they have taken out loans to pay for their expenses temporarily. Whatever the reason, they don’t count as unemployed either because they’re not looking for work. During the Great Depression, it was common for kids as young as fourteen to be working. The emphasis on college degrees was not the same as it is today.


During the Great Depression years, prisoners were actually considered employed. Today, they are not. Here’s an interesting fact for you. Today, the United States holds about twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. Daunting, isn’t it?

So what is the real unemployment rate of the United States? It’s difficult to say; however, the evidence suggests that it is much higher than many people think. Sometimes bigger is not always better.

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