Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization for States, 2020 Annual Averages
Six alternative measures of labor underutilization have long been available on a monthly basis from the Current Population Survey (CPS) for the United States as a whole. They are published in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly Employment Situation news release. (See table 15.) The official concept of unemployment (as measured in the CPS by U-3 in the U-1 to U-6 range of alternatives) includes all jobless persons who are available to take a job and have actively sought work in the past four weeks. This concept has been thoroughly reviewed and validated since the inception of the CPS in 1940. The other measures are provided to data users and analysts who want more narrowly (U-1 and U-2) or broadly (U-4 through U-6) defined measures.
BLS is committed to updating the alternative measures data for states on a 4-quarter moving-average basis. The use of 4-quarter averages increases the reliability of the CPS estimates, which are based on relatively small sample sizes at the state level, and eliminates seasonality. Due to the inclusion of lagged quarters, the state alternative measures may not fully reflect the current status of the labor market. The analysis that follows pertains to the 2020 annual averages. Data are also available for prior time periods back to 2003.
The six state measures are based on the same definitions as those published for the United States:
Definitions for the economic characteristics underlying the three broader measures of labor underutilization are worth mentioning here. Discouraged workers (U-4, U-5, and U-6 measures) are persons who are not in the labor force, want and are available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They are not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the prior 4 weeks, for the specific reason that they believed no jobs were available for them. The marginally attached (U-5 and U-6 measures) are a group that includes discouraged workers. The criteria for the marginally attached are the same as for discouraged workers, with the exception that any reason could have been cited for the lack of job search in the prior 4 weeks. Persons employed part time for economic reasons (U-6 measure) are those working less than 35 hours per week who want to work full time, are available to do so, and gave an economic reason (their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job) for working part time. These individuals are sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers.
Generally, all six measures of labor underutilization move together over time, including across business cycles. Similarly, states that have low unemployment rates tend to have low values for the other five measures; the reverse is true for states with high unemployment rates. Note that, in the table and in the comparisons below, the unemployment rates (U-3) that are shown are derived directly from the CPS, because this is the only source of data for the various components of the other five measures. As a result, these U-3 measures may differ from the official state unemployment rates for the same period. The official rates are developed from statistical models that greatly improve the reliability of the topside labor force and unemployment estimates. Those models, developed by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program, incorporate CPS estimates, as well as input data from other sources. The model-based estimates are accessible through the LAUS program homepage. The official model-based annual averages for 2020 will be released on Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
For additional information on state estimates derived directly from the CPS, see notes on subnational CPS data.
In 2020, 22 states had rates lower than those of the U.S. for all six measures of labor underutilization, while 6 states had rates higher than those of the U.S. for all six measures. (See table A.)
The U-4 rate includes discouraged workers; thus, the difference between U-3 and U-4 reflects the degree of would-be job-seeker discouragement. At the national level, the difference between U-3 and U-4 was +0.3 percentage point in 2020. No state had a noteworthy difference between these two measures. (See table B.)
The U-5 rate includes all people who are marginally attached to the labor force, and U-6 adds those who are involuntary part-time workers. Therefore, the larger the difference between U-5 and U-6, the higher the incidence of this form of "underemployment." In 2020, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had differences between their U-5 and U-6 rates. Hawaii had the largest gap, +6.5 percentage points, followed by Colorado and California, +5.8 points and +5.6 points, respectively. North Dakota had the smallest gap, +2.5 percentage points, indicating a comparatively low degree of underemployment. At the national level, the difference between U-5 and U-6 was +4.4 percentage points.
Relative to 2019, 46 states experienced increases in all six measures of labor underutilization, while another 3 states and the District of Columbia had increases in each of their U-2 through U-6 rates. No state experienced an over-the-year decrease in any measure of labor underutilization. (See table C.)
The alternative measures for states are analyzed on a 4-quarter average basis in order to increase the reliability of the CPS estimates, which are based on relatively small sample sizes at the state level, and to eliminate seasonality. Due to the small state sample sizes, neither monthly nor quarterly statewide data from the CPS satisfy BLS publication standards. The analysis above is written with respect to statistical significance testing at the 90-percent confidence level for rate differences with respect to the U.S. (table A), sequential gaps in rates (table B), and over-the-year changes in rates (table C).
The next issuance of the alternative measures of labor underutilization for states, covering the four quarters ending in March 2021, is scheduled for Friday, April 23, 2021.
Last Modified Date: January 29, 2021