Mancession 1: U Numbers

Two posts on the terribly titled “Mancession.” 80% of layoffs in the past two years had happened to men. It has focused some of the debate of the implications for stimulus spending and the future of the economy through a gendered lens. I had two reactions when I started to hear about this meme: the first is that we have to look at the whole picture when it comes to unemployment numbers, and the second is that we are looking at the wrong implications of layoffs for social policy. Let’s look at the first part now.

Through the U Numbers

Talking about the first part here, let’s see if the gender gap holds for the U4-U6 numbers. In the past year, 65% of the increases in job losses have been among men for U3 numbers; these are people who have lost a job in the past year and are currently looking for work.

So it is concentrated among men there. Let’s look at the rest of the numbers, alternate measures of unemployment.

U4: Let’s assume it has been a few months since a person was laid off, and they’ve applied for hundreds of jobs with no hits. So they say “I really want to work, but the economy is too rough right now, and I’m wasting my time looking for a job. I’ll look for a jobs later when things get better.” They are now a “discouraged worker” (all terms are in this glossary). We add all the “discouraged workers” to U3 to get our U4 numbers.

U5: Now instead of the person thinking “there is no work out there because of the current economy” they instead simply just haven’t looked for work in the past 4 weeks. They have worked within the past year, but it’s been a month since they’ve bothered to look at the want ads – they still want to work however. They are now a “marginally attached to the workforce.” Discouraged workers are a subset of marginally attached workers. We add their numbers to the U4 numbers to get the U5 numbers.

An unemployed guy friend was complaining about meeting women and telling them he was unemployed. I told him he should tell the women he meets that he is “marginally attached to the workforce” instead – I will send word if that works for him.

U6: Next up is “total employed part time for economic reasons.” The title says it all: you were working 40 hours a week, the boss doesn’t want to let you go but they have to cut your hours to part-time in order to make their budget. We add this number to U5 to get the U6 number. The U4 and U5 are online by gender. The U6 is not, but a kind person at the BLS emailed me the data for blogging.

Here’s the interesting part; these numbers split almost perfectly down the middle. In the past year, 51.5% of people “marginally attached” to the labor for or those working part time for economic reasons are men, 48.5% women:

To recap, U3 unemployment is at 9.5%; U6 unemployment is at 16.5%; the difference between the two, these 7% of discouraged and part-time workers, is split half and half among men and women.

Why does this matter? Picture when you were a child at an amusement park, and the line for your favorite rollercoaster was an hour. So you leave and come back a half-hour later, expecting the line to be cut in half, and are astonished to realize the line is still an hour. It didn’t occur to you that there were plenty of people “waiting” in line, but just waiting for the line to get a bit shorter before physically getting in the line. That’s like our job market right now – all the discouraged and part-time workers are “waiting” in line though they aren’t physically there, and those standing around just outside of line aren’t predominately either gender.

And in so much as labor markets are changing from a manufacturing one to a services one, the U6 number may become more important. There are already very smart economists saying U3 Unemployment isn’t telling us much for labor markets; is there something about a retail/service economy that would encourage U6 as a measuring tool for its health? The future will be less about laying off the factory and more about adjusting services provided hours downward?