Official unemployment rate drops to 6.6 percent


WASHINGTON - The jobless rate report released today by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the official unemployment rate fell last month by a tenth of a percentage point to 6.6 percent.

The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive economic think tank backed by labor, issued a statement that was positive in tone and substance about some aspects of the Labor Department's report but negative about others.

"In an unusual turn in recent months," the institute's statement said, "the decline (in the official unemployment rate) was for good reasons - a higher share of the potential workforce found work, with the share of the workforce with a job rising by two tenths of a percentage point. The labor force participation also rose by two-tenths of a percentage point."

Unions, the EPI and progressive economists in general, however, note that the numbers of workers in the labor force who are still not working are far too high.

"Labor force participation is still far too depressed," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with EPI.

"There are still 5.7 million missing workers," she added, "who are not participating by way of having a job."

The people she describes as "missing workers" are people who have given up looking for work or people who never started because job offerings are so few.

Other parts of the employment report released by the government today are also not good.

The report, for example, shows that only 113,000 jobs were added in January, bringing the average growth rate of the last three months to just 154,000. At that rate of growth it would take more than six years to reach pre-recession levels of employment, said Shierholz.

The Labor Department' s report, particularly bleak regarding the situation with long-term unemployment, comes out just a day after Republicans in both the House and the Senate killed legislation that would have extended emergency federal unemployment benefits for 1.7 million of the long-term unemployed. 

Photo: Waiting in line at a job fair in Miami. (Lynne Sladky/AP)