Maine’s official unemployment rate continues to fall along with the nation as a whole, but “underemployment” is as big a problem as ever, according to data released late last month by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of part-time Maine workers who want more work but can’t find is showing no sign of decline. Maine’s share of employed workers who are involuntary part-timers is the fifth highest in the nation, and has grown more than any of the other state except Louisiana.
Four times per year the BLS publishes updates to their “alternative measures of labor underutilization in the states.” These quarterly updates provide an important supplement to the monthly official unemployment rate by offering more broadly-defined measures of unemployment, including the “U6” unemployment rate. While the official monthly unemployment rate only counts unemployed workers actively searching for work, the U6 unemployment rate also accounts for both part-time workers who want more work but can’t find it and unemployed workers who have recently stopped looking for work.
The U6 and related alternative measures of slack in state labor markets are only available as a rolling four-quarter average, so they lag behind the official monthly unemployment rate. The data released last month, for example, gave us the U6 unemployment rate for the four-quarter period beginning in April 2013 and ending in March, 2014. During a time of slow economic recovery like the one we are experiencing right now, we should expect to see the U6 follow the official unemployment on its downward trend. Unemployed workers actively searching for work are included in both measures.
But Maine’s U6 hasn’t fallen as quickly as the official unemployment rate in the wake of the recession because the number of “involuntary” part-time workers- part-timers who want more work but can’t find it has grown.
The increasing number of involuntary part-time workers in the wake of the recession is bad news. Some unemployed Mainers have found jobs, but too many of those jobs aren’t providing the number of hours those workers need to support themselves and their families.