Texas’ broader unemployment rate declined last year
By SHERYL JEAN
All six measures the government uses to gauge unemployment, including one that some observers say is the “real” unemployment rate, fell in Texas last year.
The state’s U6 rate — a broad measure of unemployment that includes the unemployed, underemployed and people marginally attached to the labor force — fell to 12.1 percent from 14 percent in 2011, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was below the U.S. average U6 rate of 14.7 percent in 2012, which was down from 15.9 percent in 2011.
“The labor market is continuing to improve here in Texas as is the nation,” said Cheryl Abbot, Dallas regional economist for the BLS. “Texas is doing better than the national average — even when you look at the broadest measure of unemployment.”
Texas’ U6 rate ranked 15th nationally. North Dakota had the lowest U6 rate (6.1 percent) in 2012; Nevada posted the highest rate (20.3 percent).
Officially, Texas’ unemployment rate averaged 6.7 percent last year, compared with the national average of 8.1 percent. This official unemployment rate includes all unemployed people who were available to work and actively looked for a job in the last four weeks of the government survey.
The declines were helped by Texas employers adding more jobs last year — 260,800 — than any other state.
The unemployment rate for “discouraged workers” and people “marginally attached to the workforce” also declined last year, to 7.8 percent from 9.1 percent in 2011, according to BLS data. Discouraged workers are defined as people who have stopped looking for work because they don’t think there are any jobs for them. Those who are not working but want to work, are available to work and have looked for work in the last 12 months but not in the last four weeks are considered marginally attached to the workforce.
The numbers may have improved, but Lisa Hicks of Royse City hasn’t seen much change.
“I’m not seeing a whole lot of pickup,” said Hicks, 47, who was laid off in 2008 and has been able to find only contract jobs since then. She is among the ranks of the marginally attached to the workforce.
Hicks is not working and is looking for a job, but she is so frustrated that she plans to go to nursing school.
Here are other labor measurements for Texas in 2012, according to the BLS:
More than 10 times as many people were underemployed than discouraged.
The number of underemployed people — working part time for economic reasons — fell to 549,500 from 610,500 in 2011. Nationwide, there were 8.1 million underemployed workers.
The number of discouraged workers fell from 61,000 in 2011 to 53,000. Discouraged workers accounted for more than one-third of all marginally attached workers statewide.
As of Dec. 31, 152,100 people in Texas were considered marginally attached to the workforce. Nationally, that number totaled 2.5 million people.
What the improved numbers don’t show is what happened to the discouraged workers or marginally attached people. The BLS’ Abbot acknowledged that they could have found work or stopped looking for work to go back to school or move out of state.
Robert Dye, chief economist for Dallas-based Comerica Bank, thinks the U6 rate wouldn’t be down as much if some of the long-term unemployed weren’t being absorbed into the labor force. He thinks that will only increase as hiring broadens across industries.
Still, “we should be concerned because unemployment rates are unacceptably high right now,” Dye said. “It’s a very difficult job market.”
Follow Sheryl Jean on Twitter at @SherylJeanDMN.