Broader measure of unemployment in Nevada shows slight improvement in first quarter of 2012

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A broader measure of Nevada’s unemployment picture, including those who have given up looking for work, showed slight but continued improvement through the first quarter of 2012, a federal report released today shows.

The rate in Nevada dropped from 22.7 percent in the four quarters through Dec. 31, 2011, to 22.3 percent through March 31, according to the quarterly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The “U-6” rate is sometimes referred to as the “actual” jobless rate because it includes discouraged workers and those working part-time who would like to be in full-time jobs. It compares to the official 12 percent unemployment rate for Nevada for March reported last week by the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR).

Nevada leads the nation in both measures of unemployment.

Nationally, the U-6 unemployment rate is 15.6 percent. The only other state with a rate above 20 percent is California, with a rate of 20.8 percent. North Dakota has the lowest rate at 6.3 percent.

The Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization for States shows six different jobless rates using different measures. The U-6 rate includes discouraged workers, defined as people who want work but who had not searched for work in the previous four weeks because they believed no jobs were available to them. It also includes “marginally attached” workers, defined as those who had not looked for work in the previous four weeks for any reason.

Finally the measure includes those employed part-time for economic reasons, defined as those working less than 35 hours per week who want to work full time, are available to do so, and gave an economic reason – their hours had been cut back or they were unable to find a full-time job – for working part time. These individuals are sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that this broader definition of unemployment is based on relatively small sample sizes at the state level.

Bill Anderson, chief economist for DETR, said there has been gradual improvement in both the official rate and the broader measure of unemployment although the state still has a long ways to go. The official jobless rate has fallen for seven straight months. The U-6 measure has declined in each of the last two quarters, he said.

“They have been on the mend, albeit relatively slowly,” Anderson said.

But Nevada’s unemployment rate remains a concern for policymakers, even as other economic indicators are showing improvement.

The state Department of Taxation reported yesterday that taxable sales surged in February by 10.2 percent over February 2011. The state Gaming Control Board reported strong wins for casinos in both January and February.

Anderson said personal income has been up for seven straight quarters as well.

“The one area where we don’t seem to be gaining a whole lot of traction of yet is in our labor markets,” he said. “We’re seeing some improvement but it’s been relatively slow going.”

The reasons are due largely to the lagging construction and public employee job sectors, Anderson said. The construction industry has lost about 100,000 jobs compared to the peak prior to the recession, and budget difficulties have led to declines in government employment, he said.

The public sector job losses are particularly noticeable at the local government level. The March jobless report shows there were 4,400 few local government jobs in March 2012 compared to March 2011. State government jobs were down 1,300 over the same period.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has made job creation a priority of his administration, and is pushing forward with an economic development plan to help create 50,000 new jobs in Nevada by the end of 2014.

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Audio clips:

DETR economist Bill Anderson says Nevada’s jobless numbers are improving but it is slow going:

042712Anderson1 :35 the past year.”

Anderson says job creation is lagging behind other improving economic indicators:

042712Anderson2 :14 relatively slow going.”

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