WASHINGTON, D.C. As Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings begin this week, new reporting from Axios reveals that the country’s true unemployment rate — defined as those who do not have a full-time job that pays a living wage — is 26.1% for all Americans and a staggering 59.2% for Black Americans.  

Despite the ongoing recession and public health crisis that have resulted in thousands of small business closures and over 215,000 U.S. deaths, Trump’s Senate allies are continuing to push through Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. As Senate Republicans rush through her nomination process, Barrett’s full record remains unavailable to the public, including all her public documents from her tenure at Notre Dame.  

“In one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen, Trump and his Senate allies choose to advance their radical judicial agenda over families facing food insecurity and unemployment,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US.

“Rather than rushing through a justice who has ruled with corporations over people 76% of the time, lawmakers’ number one priority should be working on relief for small businesses on the brink of shuttering and for families struggling to make ends meet.” 

AXIOS: Exclusive: America’s true unemployment rate

By Felix Salmon, 10/13/2020 

A person who is looking for a full-time job that pays a living wage — but who can’t find one — is unemployed. If you accept that definition, the true unemployment rate in the U.S. is a stunning 26.1%, according to an important new dataset shared exclusively with “Axios on HBO.” 

Why it matters: The official unemployment rate is artificially depressed by excluding people who might be earning only a few dollars a week. It also excludes anybody who has stopped looking for work or is discouraged by a lack of jobs or by the demands of child care during the coronavirus crisis. 

If you measure the unemployed as anybody over 16 years old who isn’t earning a living wage, the rate rises even further, to 54.6%. For Black Americans, it’s 59.2%. 

The backstory: The official definition of unemployment can be traced back to the 1870s, when a Massachusetts statistician named Carroll Wright diagnosed what he referred to as “industrial hypochondria”. 

By restricting the “unemployed” label to men who “really want employment,” Wright managed to minimize the unemployment figure. 

Wright went on to found the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and he brought his unemployment definition with him. 

To this day, to be officially counted as unemployed you need to be earning no money at all, and you need to be actively looking for work. 

Data: Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity; Chart: Axios Visuals 

By the numbers: In January, when the official rate of unemployment was 3.6%, the true rate was seven times greater — 23.4%. That’s according to new calculations from the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity, founded by Gene Ludwig, a former U.S. Comptroller of the Currency. 

“I was shocked,” he tells Axios on HBO, “that a quarter of the population that want work can’t earn a living wage.” 

The recession made everything worse. Only 46.1% of white Americans over the age of 16 — and a mere 40.8% of Black Americans — now have a full-time job paying more than $20,000 per year. 

The bottom line: The unemployment catastrophe in America is not new. It’s been at crisis levels for decades, but it has been hidden behind the official numbers. Ludwig’s hope is that his new data will light a fire under Congress to address this national emergency. 


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