Americans consistently voice their disapproval on the state of the economy in recent polls, largely because of the stratospheric cost of living. But apologists for the Biden administration point to the low unemployment rate of 3.9% in April as proof of the economy’s strength.

Yet this is a hollow talking point, since the real unemployment rate is likely between 6.5% and 7.7%.


The unemployment rate is the percentage of people in the labor force who don’t have a job. That means the unemployment rate can change if either the number of people unemployed or the total size of the labor force changes.

The shocking reality is that somewhere between 4.7 million and 7 million people who aren’t working today are not included when calculating the unemployment rate. That artificially reduces the figure.

The reason these millions of Americans are uncounted began with the events of 2020.

When the government instituted draconian lockdowns across most of the economy in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, more than 17 million people became unemployed, and an additional 8 million people immediately left the labor force.

As the economy slowly reopened across the country, millions of people began returning to work. That, of course, drove down the unemployment rate by reducing the number of unemployed people. Some of those who left the labor force also returned and eventually found jobs, further reducing the unemployment rate.

But there were also millions who left the labor market entirely and never returned. As such, they were no longer counted among the unemployed, nor in the labor force. This pushed the unemployment rate down even more.

If those millions of people were to suddenly look for work again, it would greatly increase the labor force, but it would also increase the unemployment rate, at least until those jobseekers found work.

Official government data point to just how many workers are missing from the labor market today. Several metrics show a large gap between their current reading and their pre-pandemic trends. These include the employment level, the number of nonfarm payrolls, the employment-to-population ratio and those not in the labor force.

The gap is between 4.7 million and 7 million people, all of whom are not working, but are excluded from the unemployment rolls. If they were still counted as jobless members of the labor force, the unemployment rate would jump to between 6.5% and 7.7%.

The latter figure is almost twice the official unemployment rate. Even 6.5% would represent a significant spike.

Looking only at the unemployment rate can give a distorted view of the labor market. If unemployed people are looking for work and then get jobs, that causes the unemployment rate to fall. But, if those same people give up looking for work and leave the labor force, it has precisely the same effect on this metric.

Using additional data provides a better gauge of the labor market’s health and workers’ jobs satisfaction. Real, or inflation-adjusted, earnings are a good example—and they have plummeted.

While the average American worker’s weekly paycheck has increased $147 from January 2021 through April 2024, those earnings buy $47 less because prices have risen so much faster than incomes.

This has caused many Americans to work extra hours or pick up a second job. Among renters, more than one-fifth of them have taken on another job in order to pay their rent on time in the past few months.

That’s noteworthy because whenever someone is hired, whether it’s that person’s first or fourth job, it’s still counted as an additional payroll in the government’s monthly job statistics. With millions of Americans picking up additional work to try and make ends meet for their families, the number of jobs has risen much faster than the number of people employed.

Simply touting a low unemployment rate provides a view of the labor market that is at best incomplete and at worst deceptive. A comprehensive view of economic conditions for the working class shows why they are so unhappy: Inflation has made it impossible for them to get ahead, no matter how many jobs they work.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation