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March 1993, Vol. 116, No. 3
F or a long time now, international comparisons of labor markets have focused on the unemployment rate, which gives an important, but incomplete, indication of how well labor markets are functioning from country to country. The unemployment rate is a convenient and well-known concept; however, too exclusive a focus on this single measure may distort our view of the economies of other developed nations in comparison with that of the United States.
Thus far, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' approach to international labor market comparisons has been limited largely to analyzing unemployment rates adjusted to the usually cited U.S. concept and to providing periodic data and analysis of other labor market indicators, such as employment, employment-to-population ratios, and labor force participation rates, to help round out the picture.1 International unemployment figures are regularly presented in terms of age and sex, but not according to the many other dimensions of unemployment and underemployment. Additional statistics are needed for a balanced interpretation of comparative labor market conditions.
Since 1976, the Bureau has published alternative unemployment measures for the United States known as U-1 through U-7.2 The presentations of these measures recognizes that no single unemployment definition can serve all the purposes for which such data are needed. Under this framework, U-5 is the official, usually cited, U.S. unemployment rate, while U-1 through U-4 narrow in on certain "more serious" types of unemployment, such as joblessness of long duration and persons who have lost their jobs (as opposed to new entrants and reentrants into the labor force and job leavers). U-6 and U-7 portray broader concepts of unemployment than does U-5, bringing into consideration two additional elements of underutilization of labor: persons working part time for economic reasons and discouraged workers.
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1 For example, see Joyanna Moy, "An analysis of unemployment and other labor market indicators in 10 countries," Monthly Labor Review, April 1988, pp. 39-50.
2 The framework embodying U-1 through U-7 was introduced in Julius Shiskin, "Employment and unemployment: the doughnut or the hole?" Monthly Labor Review, February 1976, pp. 3-10. Since that time, the seven indicators for the United States have been published each month in table A-7 of the news release, Employment Situation.
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