Before this seven-week stretch of 33.5 million initial jobless claims, there were already 7.1 million unemployed Americans as of March 13. When those figures are combined, it equals more than 40 million unemployed, or a real unemployment rate of 24.9%.

Fortune Magazine, May 7th


Is the unemployment rate 24.9% as of March 2020, including those that quit searching for work?

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    The traditional definition of "unemployment rate" is based on the number of people who are looking for a job but can't find one. This definition is less than useful right now, since many people who have lost their jobs aren't bothering to look -- they know nobody's hiring.
    – Mark
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 2:40
  • 4
    A reminder: We don't need political snark here. There are plenty of places on the Internet where it is welcomed.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 4:37
  • @Mark I disagree that no one is hiring. There are plenty of businesses that need extra workers right now in industries that are unusually stressed (health care, delivery services, grocery stories, cleaning companies, etc). Now, whether people are aware of that, the number of new jobs is >= to the number of displaced jobs or if the people displaced are under/over qualified is another story.
    – PC Luddite
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 4:58
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    @TravisWells that is to my second point about the type of jobs available and more or less what I meant when I said "under/over qualified". There are plenty of service jobs available, but they're low paying and often higher risk. Apologies if I sounded insensitive. Obviously raw numbers don't really convey the human element in the overall crisis.
    – PC Luddite
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 6:03
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    As noted in an answer, "real unmeployment rate" is a technical term. Since it is used in the quote, should it also be used in the title and the question?
    – GEdgar
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 14:24

1 Answer 1


This was a close estimate, but for May not for March. The official term "real unemployment" includes "marginally attached" workers among the unemployed--those who have stopped looking for work in the last 12 months. So if they quit looking for work more than 12 months ago, they're not counted in the labor force. In any event, the current real unemployment rate announced this morning (May 8) is 22.8%.

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Consistent with this, the labor force participation rate has recently been dropping near or below the long-term average of 60.2%.

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    "those that quit searching for work" are sometimes called "discouraged workers" and I think the BLS tracks them too, for a while, but separately from the unemployment figure. But the quoted claim didn't even say these discouraged workers should be included, that was the OP's addition. Commented May 8, 2020 at 18:00
  • CNN has a bit of a "for dummies" breakdown (of the latest BLS figures, mostly U3 and U6) edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/05/business/… "people who want a job but haven’t searched in the last 12 months" are an extra 6.9m on top of U6 according to that. Commented May 8, 2020 at 18:38
  • @Fizz Good point, I missed that right in my own source. Cleaned up my answer a bit accordingly.
    – Brian Z
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 18:50
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    Frankly, I'm a bit unsure CNN hasn't messed up here economics.stackexchange.com/questions/36518/… Commented May 8, 2020 at 18:53
  • Actually the CNN math is correct albeit it wasn't straightforward where the 6.9m figure came from (table A-38 in BLS). Commented May 8, 2020 at 19:02

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