The headline unemployment rate is in favorable territory. The same isn't true for the broader measurement including people marooned in part-time jobs, and that's new.

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Washington’s average annual unemployment rate last year was 5.5 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s Great Recession peak was 10.4 percent in late 2009. But wait: This is the “official” rate, otherwise known as U-3.

The U-6 measurement includes both discouraged workers who have given up actively seeking employment and those employed part-time who want full-time jobs. The state’s average U-6 last year was 10.3 percent (the same as Oregon and above the national 9.3 percent). In 2009, this rate was 16.2 percent. Yet the improvement shows continued labor-market slack. In 2007, U-6 was 8.8 percent.

Breaking out the involuntary part-timers, they totaled 133,500 in the fourth quarter.

According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the nation is seeing many more of these workers than in the past. The 6 million at the end of 2016 compare with about 2.5 million in the mid-1970s. Worst hit among the involuntary part-timers are those in low-skilled occupations, especially in retail trade and leisure and hospitality. Low-skilled positions have grown in recent years, but more have shifted to part-time.

Is this the new shape of work for many Americans, or the enormous hole in demand caused by the Great Recession and federal austerity? I suspect it’s a bit of both. But the argument will continue.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Thought toxic assets

Were a big bank’s balance sheet?

Nope, a tear-down house