January Unemployment - The Measure of Despair
There were a reported 193,000 new jobs in January according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but note that in the pass few years this number is usually revised downwards after a couple of months when they think no one is looking.
In any case, even if the number is good, it still leaves the labor market with a lot of catching up to do since 2001. It takes about 160,000 new jobs a month just to break even with population growth. The average job growth reported by the BLS over the past six months was 158,000 per month.
The government reported the unemployment rate at 4.7% in January. What they neglect to report is the share of the adult population that had a job, that is, the employment to population ratio. This could be termed the "measure of despair" because it gives a way to count the number of people who are unemployed but no longer looking for a job because they have despaired of finding one.
In January 2006 this number was 62.9%, a small gain from August 2005, when it was 62.8%. In March 2001, this number was 64.1%. The non-difference between August 2005 and January 2006 tells us that the level of human despair is holding steady. What the difference between the January 2006 ratio of 62.9% and the March 2001 ratio of 64.1% means is that despair has greatly increased since March 2001.
If the ratio had held steady from March 2001 until January 2006 there would be 3.2 million more Americans with jobs in January. Hence, 3.2 million Americans have despaired of ever finding a decent job and have dropped out of the job market since March 2001 and are now living with that despair. If they are counted as unemployed, the US unemployment rate would actually be 6.7%, not the reported 4.7%.
Its all in how, and whether, you measure despair.