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Alternative Measures of Unemployment

Minnesota's official unemployment rate tells us a lot about the share of people in the labor force who have untapped potential to offer. But it doesn't tell the whole story. We can learn more by looking at race, age, and gender, and by looking beyond the traditional unemployment rate. Please note that all data below are presented as 12-month moving averages.

Unemployment by race or ethnicity

When we break out unemployment rates by race, we find that some communities face greater challenges than others. Black unemployment had been on an upward trend since late 2014 but declined the past six months to 12.0 percent in April. Hispanic unemployment increased the past six months to 5.0 percent in April. The white unemployment rate is 2.9 percent.

Minnesota unemployment rates by race or ethnicity as of April 2016:

  • Black or African American, 12.0 percent, compared to 12.9 percent 12 months ago
  • Hispanic or Latino, 5.0 percent, compared to 4.7 percent 12 months ago
  • White, 2.9 percent, compared to 3.0 percent 12 months ago
  • All workers statewide, 3.7 percent, compared to 3.9 percent 12 months ago


Also see the American Community Survey for a broader selection of unemployment data by race or origin, including White, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian, and more. Population profiles for all available races are available for download here. Note that the American Community Survey data are collected and calculated by a method which differs from the Current Population Survey numbers shown above.

Unemployment by age and gender

We also find differences when we break out rates by age or gender. The unemployment rate for teens increased to 7.8 percent in April, after a long downward trend since early 2013. Unemployment rates for women and teens are lower than 12 months ago.

Minnesota unemployment rates by age and gender as of April 2016:

  • Teens (age 16-19), 7.8 percent, compared to 10.5 percent 12 months ago
  • Men, 4.3 percent, compared to 4.2 percent 12 months ago
  • Women, 3.0 percent, compared to 3.4 percent 12 months ago
  • Compared to all workers statewide at 3.7 percent in April and 3.9 percent 12 months ago


The long-term unemployed

Long-term unemployment—lasting 27 weeks or more—imposes costs on people that go well beyond lost wages. Future earnings are lower, and health, relationships, and self-esteem can suffer. The number of long-term unemployed following the Great Recession peaked in August 2011 at 75,100 persons and as of April 2016 stood at 16,600 persons. At the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, the number of long-term unemployed was 18,000.

Minnesota long-term unemployment as of April 2016:

  • Statewide number of long-term unemployed, 16,600 persons, compared to 28,100 persons 12 months ago
  • Statewide long-term unemployed as a share of total unemployed (U-3), 14.8 percent, compared to 24.2 percent 12 months ago

It is important to note that the percentage of long-term unemployed persons represents a share of unemployed persons only, while other unemployment rates represent a share of the entire labor force which includes all persons age 16 or older who are working or looking for work.


Alternative measures of unemployment

We can learn still more about Minnesota's labor market by looking at alternative measures of unemployment defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Minnesota unemployment rates by alternative measures as of April 2016:

  • U-3 Officially unemployed, 3.7 percent, compared to 3.9 percent 12 months ago
  • U-4 Discouraged plus officially unemployed, 4.0 percent, compared to 4.2 percent 12 months ago
  • U-5 Marginally attached plus discouraged and officially unemployed, 4.6 percent, compared to 4.8 percent 12 months ago
  • U-6 Part-time underemployed plus marginally attached, discouraged, and officially unemployed, 8.0 percent, compared to 8.1 percent 12 months ago
  • Part-time underemployed—a component of U- 6, including only persons working less than 35 hours per week who want, but cannot find, a full-time job—is 3.4 percent, compared to 3.3 percent 12 months ago


What do these measures mean?

The official unemployment measure, called U-3, is the share of the labor force aged 16 and over who, at the time of the monthly survey, have been unemployed for the past week and have looked for work sometime in the past four weeks.

But what about people who looked for work within the past twelve months but not in the past four weeks because they believed there were no jobs available that fit their qualifications? These marginally attached “discouraged workers” reveal additional untapped potential and are included in a broader measure called U-4.

And what if we add all the other marginally attached workers, people who looked for work sometime in the past twelve months but, for other reasons, did not look in the past four weeks? These other marginally attached workers expand the count still further in the U-5 measure.

And finally, U-6 includes all of the above and adds people who are employed part-time but want full-time work.

Looking ahead

Falling unemployment and underemployment mean that Minnesota’s economy is running closer to its full potential than before. By looking at race, age, gender, and additional measures of unemployment, we can see where there is still more work to be done.

Notes on using Current Population Survey state data:
Data above are presented as 12-month moving averages. Each monthly data point is an average of that month and the previous 11 months. Twelve-month moving averages are calculated differently than the official estimates of unemployment and should not be compared directly. Learn more about using CPS subnational data at

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