Gallup Finds U.S. Underemployment Stuck at 18.5% in Mid-Sept.

by Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist

Unemployment is 8.8%; 9.7% are working part time but seeking full-time jobs

PRINCETON, NJ -- Underemployment, a measure that combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed with the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, is 18.5% in mid-September -- the same as the 18.5% at the end of August and the 18.6% of mid-September a year ago.

Gallup's U.S. Underemployment Rate, 2010-2011

Unemployment Improves in Early September

Unemployment, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, is 8.8% in mid-September -- down from 9.1% at the end of August and the same as it was at the end of July. However, the apparent improvement in unemployment from August to mid-September may merely reflect normal seasonal hiring patterns and not be an indication that the employment situation is improving. On the other hand, current unemployment is considerably better than the 9.4% of a year ago.

Gallup's U.S. Unemployment Rate, 2010-2011

Number Forced to Take Part-Time Work Increases

Offsetting the drop in the percentage of unemployed is an increase to 9.7% in the percentage of part-time workers who want full-time work in mid-September -- up from 9.4% at the end of August and its highest level since mid-June. It is also up from 9.2% in mid-September last year. It is this increase, coupled with the downturn in unemployment, that yields the stability this month in the measure of overall underemployment.

Percentage of Americans Working Part Time but Wanting Full-Time Work, 2010-2011

Looking Ahead to the Government's Next Unemployment Report

Gallup's mid-month unemployment report covers the same period the government uses to collect data for its September unemployment report. As a result, Gallup's data lead the government's report by several weeks.

The mid-September decline in U.S. unemployment as measured by Gallup most likely results from the seasonal effect of the typical hiring increase that takes place in September. Thus, as noted earlier, the apparent improvement may not indicate that the employment situation is improving appreciably.

Modeling based on statistical comparisons of Gallup's unemployment and job creation data to the government's seasonally adjusted data over time suggests that the Bureau of Labor Statistics will report that September's unemployment rate is unchanged at 9.1% -- or possibly has increased to 9.2%. Gallup Daily tracking of the employment situation in America continues to imply that the government's numbers tend to understate the unemployment and underemployment situation, particularly as the workforce shrinks.

Underemployment Deserves More Attention

If the government reports no improvement in the jobs situation, it will be consistent with recent economic data showing flat retail sales, higher jobless claims, and weaker manufacturing activity. It is also consistent with Gallup's economic confidence data, as jobs are hard to find when consumer confidence is plunging.

Still, the larger problem remains underemployment. Nearly one in five Americans remain underemployed this year, as was the case a year ago, and the figures are worse for certain subgroups, including 28.9% underemployment for those 18 to 29, 23.1% for those who have not attended college, and 27.8% among blacks.

More Americans are now being forced to take part-time jobs when they really want full-time work. Focusing merely on unemployment instead of underemployment tends to ignore the hardship facing the millions of Americans forced to work part time. The long-term implications of this jobs situation -- particularly among specific groups of Americans -- for U.S. society as a whole may be more important than any of the major topics currently being debated nationally.

How Gallup's Unemployment Measure Differs From the U.S. Government's Measure reports results from these indexes in daily, weekly, and monthly averages and in stories. Complete trend data are always available to view and export in the following charts:

Daily: Employment, Economic Confidence and Job Creation, Consumer Spending
Weekly: Employment, Economic Confidence, Job Creation, Consumer Spending

Read more about Gallup's economic measures.

View our economic release schedule.

Survey Methods

Gallup classifies American workers as underemployed if they are either unemployed or working part time but wanting full-time work. The findings reflect more than 18,000 phone interviews with U.S. adults aged 18 and older in the workforce, collected over a 30-day period. Gallup's results are not seasonally adjusted and are ahead of government reports by approximately two weeks.

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking from Aug. 17-Sept. 15, 2011, with a random sample of 18,387 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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