GOP lawmaker calls for change to how government measures unemployment

A Republican lawmaker is intensifying his push for legislation that would change how the government measures the unemployment rate. 

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) intends to press GOP leaders to move his bill to include the number of individuals who gave up looking for work in the percentage of jobless claims.


Should the government measure unemployment with Hunter's figure, the unemployment rate would be higher than the current rate of approximately 8 percent — a potentially devastating assessment for the White House, especially in an election year.

The San Diego-based lawmaker contends that he did not introduce his bill to make the president look bad, because the number would reflect poorly on all individuals in charge of government.

During a recent interview with Fox News Channel’s Martha MacCallum, Hunter said, “it makes me look bad too when unemployment is sliding … it makes the Republican Congress, the president and the Democratic Senate — anybody who is an elected representative and in charge look bad. I don’t think it goes one way.”

His one-page legislation, the REAL Unemployment Calculation Act, would require “the federal government [to] cite, as its official unemployment calculation, the figure that takes into account those who are no longer looking for work,” not only those individuals actively seeking jobs.

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For example, the most recent unemployment rate released on Friday, at 8.2 percent unemployment, would be officially considered 9.6 percent, the so-called U-5 rate that was also released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

The measure would not require any additional numbers to be calculated; it would simply use a statistic that the BLS already calculates each month, alongside the so-called official unemployment rate and a handful of other stats. 

The U-5 stat measures “total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force,” while the U-3 stat or the “official unemployment rate,” measures “total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force.” 

Though the government modernized how unemployment was surveyed in 1994 — adding the several different calculations, including the U-5 rate, to the mix — the official unemployment calculation has remained largely the same, according to a report on the “alternative unemployment measures” released by the BLS in 1994. 

“Since the inception of the survey in 1940, only relatively minor changes have been made to the official definition of unemployment, despite numerous outside reviews and ongoing assessments by academicians, business and labor organizations and various interest groups. The official measure has withstood the test of time largely because of its objectivity,” wrote John Bregger, former assistant commissioner for current employment analysis.  

For the past two decades, there has been a consistent spread between the U-3 and U-5 rates, until several years ago during President Obama’s administration, when the U-3 began to improve while the U-5 rose, according to a recent study of Labor Department data released by Investor’s Business Daily in late February.

Hunter said he believes it is imperative to deem the U-5 rate as the “official unemployment rate” because, as he says, the U-3 avoids “a subset of Americans who are not counted.” 

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics does in fact provide alternative measurements of unemployment, but they are consistently overshadowed by the U-3 rate, which ignores a large group of people. We need to be realistic and focus our attention on the figure that provides the most accurate representation of national unemployment — not the figure that under-represents the challenge we face,” Hunter said in a recent statement. 

Still, the U-5 rate does not factor in the reasons that individuals stopped looking for work, such as deciding to go to school, inheriting money or realizing that jobs were not available in their local area. It also does not account for the number of individuals who are on unemployment insurance, according to a source familiar with the monthly survey. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics refrained from commenting on Hunter’s legislation. 

The Education and Workforce Committee has no action on Hunter’s bill planned at this time, according to committee spokesman Brian Newell. 

Regardless, Hunter intends to pursue additional co-sponsors for his bill, spokesman Joe Kasper told The Hill. He will “definitely” make his case for consideration of the measure to leaders “in the coming weeks.”  

Hunter conceded that should his measure become law, it could be politically detrimental to his party, but to him the most accurate picture of unemployment in the United States ranks above politics. 

“If a Republican gets elected this year and gets sworn in next year this will be their unemployment figure too. So you have to have truth no matter who it hurts or who it actually affects. You have to have the actual truth, that’s what we need here — truth to power. And that’s how things start getting fixed,” Hunter said on Fox News.