How bad is a 10.2 percent unemployment rate?

The symbolism is awful, but by some measures the labor market is actually improving

Published November 6, 2009 2:19PM (EST)

By any normal standard, there is no doubt that the government's unemployment report for October is grim. The unemployment rate jumped up to 10.2 percent and there are 15.7 million unemployed Americans. The headline writers and politicians will grab those numbers and won't let go.

The broadest measure of unemployment, the so-called U-6 number that measures "total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time" also rose, from 16.1 percent to 16.3 percent.

But the news isn't all bad. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that it revised down significantly the number of jobs lost in August from 201,000 to 154,000, and in September from 263,000 to 219,000. That means;

In the most recent 3 months, job losses have averaged 188,000 per month, compared with losses averaging 357,000 during the prior 3 months. In contrast, losses averaged 645,000 per month from November 2008 to April 2009.

Going from an average of 645,000 jobs lost a month to 188,000 is a sign of an improving labor market, even if the improvement is only from absolutely horrific to merely awful.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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How The World Works Unemployment U.s. Economy