August 22, 2015 5:00 pm -


The “real unemployment rate” as described by Trump is based on nothing but his fantasy. His claims have ranged from 21% to 42%.

The official unemployment rate is based on a monthly sample of households, which tracks how many people have a job, who’s “actively looking,” and who’s waiting to get called back after a recent layoff. And by this traditional measure, U.S. unemployment has steadily plunged, from 10% in October 2009 to 5.3% in July 2015.

An alternative measure of unemployment, called U-6, measures Americans who are not just unemployed, but “underemployed” — they’ve settled for part-time jobs — or have given up looking altogether. The U-6 unemployment rate soared past 16% during the economic downturn, and it’s still pretty high. According to the most recent U-6 calculations, about 10.4% of Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

So how did Trump arrive at 42% unemployment? Probably by relying on a different number called the labor-force participation rate. That ratio measures the percentage of the population that’s older than 16 and actively working.

According to the most recent report, about 37% of Americans older than 16 aren’t working. Factor in Trump’s tendency toward exaggeration, and that’s pretty close to the number he quotes to TIME.

Keep in mind: No one judges unemployment this way. No one should judge unemployment this way.

Trump’s number includes the tens of millions of Americans who actively choose not to participate in the labor force. He’s counting high school and college students. Elderly Americans who chose to retire. The disabled.

Even if Trump gets one point technically right — there are about 93 million Americans over age 16 without jobs — we don’t want all of these people to be working. (Unless you’re a fan of conscripted labor.)



D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.