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Recession Over? Not With 21 Percent Unemployment.

How bad is the economy? Despite what you see going on with the stock market, and the continuing talk about profits and green shoots, it's pretty bad.

To use one broad gauge, there are a heck of a lot of people who are unemployed.

How many? It depends on who you ask.

According to the official unemployment numbers, not quite 10 percent of the U.S. population is unemployed. But that unemployment number doesn't include everyone who doesn't have a job but wishes they had one.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) surveys only 60,000 households every month and asks them if they "have a job, are looking for a job, or have given up, or have gone back to school, or retired," writes senior producer John W. Schoen.

The government also surveys 150,000 businesses and government payrolls to find out how many jobs there are compared to prior months.

When all is going well with the economy, these surveys can be somewhat accurate. But with what's been going on, they may be way off. At least, that's what some labor economists suspect. In September, Schoen reports that payroll data showed a loss of 263,000 jobs. The household survey showed a loss of 710,000 jobs.

If that wasn't bad enough, the BLS announced that it has probably understated the number of lost jobs by 800,000 or more this year.

I have previously referred to the U-6 in this blog, which is the BLS category for "Total unemployed, plus marginally attached workers, plus total employed part-time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force, plus all marginally-attached workers."

According to the BLS, the September 2009 U-6 measure of unemployment stood at 17 percent. A year ago, it was at 10.6 percent.

If that wasn't bad enough, some analysts and economists factor in long-term unemployed, the so-called "discouraged jobless," who have been unemployed for more than a year and have fallen out of the BLS calculations. That's how these economists get to 21.4 percent true unemployment.

Is the recession over? I'm not sure how it could be, not with 21 percent unemployment.

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