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The Economic Perspective: “Challenges in Calculating the Jobless Rate”

Mary:    I’m Mary Walden with economist MW welcoming you to the economic perspective.  Today’s program looks at challenges in calculating the jobless rate.  Mike, the coronavirus has created many issues on our economy, including how we measure it.  I understand this issue recently came to light in measuring unemployment.  What’s the problem?


Mike: Summary Answer

  • Issue is how to classify individuals who say they are not working any hours but are still getting paid
  • This was actually a goal of the PPP – the payroll protection plan
  • Millions of individuals reported this situation when surveyed for the monthly labor market report
  • BLS classified them as employed
  • Now BLS says they should be classified as unemployed
  • If labelled unemployed, means unemployment rate in April would have been almost 20% rather than near 15%
  • Likewise, jobless rate in May would have been higher, but still lower than in April
  • So, trends not changed
  • Unique situation
  • I’m MW


Mary: And I’m Mary Walden for the Economic Perspective, an NC State Extension program from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.