Minnesota’s real jobless number?

The January employment numbers, released today, look pretty good. The most jobs created in a month since April 2005 and a downtick in the unemployment rate are encouraging.

But we know there are still many folks struggling to make it through this recession and that the true unemployment rate is worse than the monthly percentage that gets published.

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How much worse is open to debate. But let’s look at the broadest measure of unemployment — the U-6.

U-6 counts people who are working part-time but want full time. It also counts “discouraged workers” — people who’ve stopped looking but who would take a job if they could find one.

Tack those on to the traditional unemployed and you get an average jobless rate of 14.2 percent in Minnesota during 2009, according to data just released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s a lot higher than the 7.8 percent average for 2009 using the official calculation — total unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force.

Click on the chart and you’ll see a comparison of average U.S. and Minnesota U-6 unemployment rates since 2005.

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You don’t hear a whole lot about U-6. State officials don’t find the annual averages particularly useful. Still, it’s worth exploring for a couple reasons.

We know there are a lot of marginally employed and discouraged people out there that ought to be part of the conversation. Over the past year, we’ve heard from dozens of people in MPR’s Public Insight Network about those kinds of struggles.

MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar got at that issue with a story this afternoon.

We also know from today’s Minnesota economic forecast, it will be a long, slow grind for people who need jobs.

State economists are now projecting:

Minnesota will only add about 29,000 jobs over the next 12 months, or 2,400 jobs per month on average. While this is certainly better than losing jobs, Minnesota’s labor market needs to produce an estimated 24,000 jobs a year, or about 2,000 a month, to simply keep pace with population growth and new people entering the workforce.

The slow pace of job creation in Minnesota for the remainder of 2010 and

early 2011 will make it very difficult to put the state’s unemployed, displaced, and underutilized workers back to work promptly.

Even with average growth of 6,000 per month in late 2011 through 2012, (Minnesota Management and Budget) economists believe it is likely that a higher state unemployment rate may become the new normal for the foreseeable future.

So even as the official rate improves, many of your neighbors will still be struggling with employment, won’t being counted in that official jobless tally and the immediate prospects for something better don’t look great.

Jay Johnson of Chanhassen, a mid-50s engineer trying to re-enter the job market, told us recently he decided he would stop looking for work “so that other people in greater need will have a better chance at working. Statistically,” he concluded, “I probably do not exist.”

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Are you part of the underemployed? Working part-time and want to be working full time or know someone in that situation? Not looking but would take a job if offered? We’d love to hear from you.

Post something below or contact me directly and share a story.

Meanwhile, click on the map below to read the stories of people who told us a year ago they were looking for jobs. Some found work.

Most, though, were still dealing with the frustrations of a job search: job applications, waiting for call backs, having to re-tell their jobless stories.

(This post included material from my MPR colleagues Elizabeth Dunbar, Bill Catlin and Annie Baxter. It also cribbed from a piece last year on U-6 by my colleague Dan Olson.)

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