Beyond The Unemployment Rate: Look At These 5 Labor Indicators The unemployment rate tells only a partial story about the labor market and the state of American workers. Five other measures provide a fuller understanding of the economy and the nation's workforce.
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Beyond The Unemployment Rate: Look At These 5 Labor Indicators

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Beyond The Unemployment Rate: Look At These 5 Labor Indicators

Beyond The Unemployment Rate: Look At These 5 Labor Indicators

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since July 2008. It's now 5.8 percent, that news today from the Labor Department. The October jobs report also tells us that employers added 214,000 jobs to payrolls. But if you ask Americans about the economy, they are still mostly unimpressed. NPR's Sonari Glinton has more.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: That payroll number, in the story's introduction, and the unemployment rate - they are headline numbers, and they get headlines. But if you add in other numbers, you can get a fuller picture of the labor market. We have some economists to help us out. First underlying number - wages. First economist - Linda Barrington from Cornell University. She says wages have been inching up, barely.

LINDA BARRINGTON: Wages and inflation are, sort of, going hand-in-hand, and have been since the recession, so people aren't feeling like they're getting ahead, even if they have a job.

GLINTON: Part of the reason that wages aren't going up, is that there are just so many under-employed people. And, as long as there are large numbers of applicants for each available job, employers won't feel the pressure to boost wages. Our next number - the long-term unemployment rate - Barrington says, it's still high.

BARRINGTON: You know, when you see the long-term unemployment numbers, those are people who have not given up, who continue to look for work, who want to work. But, for some reason, an employer isn't seeing what they're bringing as valuable enough to hire them.

GLINTON: Those are the people that are hanging in there. Then, there are the people who have just given up. They aren't even a part of the job's picture. That's the next idea, the participation rate.

JULI NIEMANN: There you go. Mmhm. Job participation rate - that's another problem.

GLINTON: Juli Niemann is with Smith Moore and Company in St. Louis.

NIEMANN: And a lot of people are giving up. They're not even in the numbers. They're not in the count. They've been looking for jobs for so long, and can't find the jobs, that they're simply not even trying anymore. And that is why you see this number, below 6%, looking better than it really is.

GLINTON: Niemann says there have also been structural changes in the economy, especially in manufacturing. Many people have been replaced by technology, and we're lot more productive.

NIEMANN: We do more, better for less. So they can't go back to jobs similar to what they had previously, nor can they find them out there.

GLINTON: Another number that we need to look at that gets at why people aren't feeling so great about the economy, despite the solid job growth, is what's called the quit-rate. Which is, essentially, the rate at which people are quitting their jobs. The quit-rate is still relatively low, and our next economist, Tara Sinclair, with the jobs website, Indeed, says, we actually want more people quitting their jobs.

TARA SINCLAIR: The reason it's a good thing for people to be quitting their job, is because that suggests that they're optimistic about their labor market choices.

GLINTON: And then there's the number of people who have part-time jobs, but would really rather be working full-time.

SINCLAIR: That number is still very elevated, which suggests that, even though the employment numbers look pretty good, if people aren't getting the type of job that they want, there's still room for improvement.

GLINTON: Before we finish up, let me restate that all the economists considered that headline-number good news. Beth Anne Bovino is chief economist at Standard & Poor's. She says, we sometimes forget that, back in the recession, 9 million people lost their jobs, and it took a long time to get them back.

BETH ANNE BOVINO: I mean, I know we still got further to go and - but I'd love to open that bottle of champagne. But I don't want to do it too quick. But, I have to say, every time I see 200,000 plus job gains, I feel like we're making one step ahead.

GLINTON: When these underlying numbers get significantly better, that's when people will finally start to feel better about the economy. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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