Nightly News | April 01, 2011
>>> red-hot issue of jobs across this country. the labor department says the economy added 216,000 jobs in march, the sixth straight month of job growth . the unemployment rate ticked down from 8.9 to 8.8, the lowest it's been in two years. it sure looks like good news, but as you know even the experts say the numbers don't really reflect reality in america, and many of you have asked us often to explain how the government does the math. nbc's john yang is here in the studio with us having dug into these numbers. john, good evening.
>> reporter: that's right. every month when we report these numbers we get lots of e-mails. the question you most often ask is among the 13 1/2 million officially unemployed, who's included and who's not included? so we went to find the answer. to calculate the unemployment rate , the government interviewed 60,000 households by phone or in person during the same week each month. they asked are you working or not? if you're not, are you looking for work? it has nothing to do with how many people collect unemployment benefits .
>> people whose unemployment insurance has been exhausted are still counted as unemployed as long as they're actively looking for work.
>> reporter: not counted as unemployed, people who haven't looked in four weeks n march they were 1.5 million. and people who have given up looking altogether because they don't think they can find work. last month, nearly one million. plus the survey asks part-time workers if they want a full-time job but can't find one. last month, 8.4 million said yes. add them all together and you get what some call the real unemployment rate , in march, 15.7%. that survey tracks people, who's working and who's not. an entirely different survey tracks jobs, how many are gained, how many are lost, and who's hiring and who's not. for that the labor department asks about 400,000 businesses how many people they had on the payroll the second week of the month. but those numbers can be slow to come in so the figures are revised the next month, sometimes losing jobs, sometimes adding them. officials also estimate the number of jobs added by start-ups.
>> every month new businesses are being created, but we can't get them on the list quick enough to sample them for that month.
>> reporter: the unemployment rate and the jobs number may get the headlines, but economists say they only tell part of the story. they look at another number the labor department calculates, something called the labor force participation rate . it's the percentage of adults who have jobs or are looking for one. and it's been stuck at the lowest rate in more than a quarter century.
>> it's been low for a very long time because people didn't have much hope in the economy. by this stage that we're creating jobs, you would think you would see more people throwing their hat in the ring to look for a job.
>> as ed mcmahon used to say, everything you'd ever want to know about the numbers and we finally have explained it. one disconnect left in american life where people are working and yet can't really support their family and put food on the table financially. what's that about?
>> brian, it's all about the kind of job being created. last month 45% of the new jobs came in restaurants and bars. health care , which usually means a nurse's aide or home health care worker and temporary office workers , jobs that typically don't pay very much and typically don't have benefits.
>> john yang , awfully good to have you on this topic here in the studio with us tonight. thanks.