By the numbers: Part-time work casts shadow over low unemployment rating

Vermont’s official unemployment rate may be approaching pre-recessionary lows, but when part-time and other marginally attached workers are factored in, the rate has been slower to budge.

At 3.3 percent, the state’s official jobless rate remained second lowest in the nation in May, the most recent month for which estimates are available. The official rates from the Vermont Department of Labor only include jobseekers who have been looking for work for a four-week period. Averaged annually, the official rate in Vermont was 4.3 percent in 2013.

But discouraged and underemployed workers don’t show up in official rates. A more inclusive measure of “labor underutilization” averaged 9.3 percent last year.

Tom Kavet, economist for the Vermont Legislature, speaks at an Emergency Board meeting on July 20, 2012. Photo by Taylor Dobbs

Tom Kavet, economist for the Vermont Legislature. Photo by Taylor Dobbs/VTDigger

Economist Tom Kavet of Kavet, Rockler & Associates, who consults for the Vermont Legislature, said in a normal economic recovery, he would expect the number to have come down more by now.

“Things are getting better, but we’re not back to anything near full employment,” Kavet said. “A lot of people would like to work more but are not able to.”


The federal government estimates unemployment six different ways to account for different segments of the workforce. Here’s a rundown, with more detail at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U-1: unemployed 15 weeks or longer

U-2: job losers + temporary workers

U-3: official rate — jobless available to work who have looked in most recent four weeks

U-4: unemployed + discouraged (potential workers who have dropped out of the labor force but looked for jobs in the last year)

U-5: unemployed + discouraged + other marginally attached (available for work, but hadn’t looked in last four weeks)

U-6: unemployed + discouraged + marginally attached + part-time workers who’d prefer full-time work

The reasons are hard to pin down, but Kavet said employers appear to be holding back because they’re not confident consumer demand will grow enough to justify more hiring.

Another possible reason for the disproportionately high percentage of part-timers? Businesses are avoiding the cost of benefits by keeping workers just shy of full-time employment, Kavet said.

“It’s likely that’s happening,” he said. “Avoiding the costs associated with full-time employment is one of the reasons there’s been more part-time and temporary employment in this (recovery).”

Patricia Moulton is secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Patricia Moulton, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Pat Moulton, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said she thinks the dichotomy is more a matter of mismatched skills.

“I rather think the issue is that the underemployed, those working below their skill level, are having a hard time finding the right full time job at their skill level,” Moulton said by email. “Further, I believe there are a percentage of the discouraged workers that are running in to job openings beyond their skill levels.”

The state is working to provide greater job opportunities for both the unemployed and underemployed, Moulton said. “But this takes time.”

Whatever the reason for stubbornly high rates of “labor underutilization,” Vermont is not alone in the trend. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that around the country, the most inclusive measurement has been slow to budge. Nationally, it averaged 13.8 percent in 2013.

Known as U-6, this figure is always higher than official unemployment rates because it’s more inclusive. It accounts for those who have all but dropped out of the workforce, and even people who are working part-time but would rather have full-time jobs.

But it’s not always this much higher than the official unemployment rate, known as U-3, which essentially just counts jobless people who have looked for work in the last four weeks.

And the difference between the two figures is bigger in Vermont than most of the rest of the country.

Vermont’s annual average U-6 rate has been more than twice the state’s official unemployment rate since 2010. Nationally, the U-6 rate in 2013 was 86 percent higher than official figures — the biggest the gap has been in at least a decade.

Comparatively, Vermont rates well either way, according to Mat Barewicz, Vermont’s economic and labor market information chief. The official unemployment rate remained second-lowest in the nation in May; the alternative rate accounting for discouraged and underemployed workers was sixth-lowest — even if the difference between the two rates was higher in Vermont than the rest of the country.

Barewicz said a significant portion of the state’s employment profile is seasonal. Close to 10 percent of the state’s labor force is employed by the leisure and hospitality sector, in which part-time work is common.

He also noted that a study by the state’s Department of Tourism found a high degree of job satisfaction among leisure and hospitality workers.

But the number of part-time workers captured in the U-6 unemployment rate reflects people working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs — not because they choose partial employment.

“You have this work ethic that is so ingrained,” said Gerry Ghazi, president, CEO and co-founder of the workforce development organization Vermont HITEC. Adult students often come to HITEC holding down multiple jobs to make ends meet, Ghazi said.

“But then their family life suffers because they’re … trying to balance three different employers,” he said. That’s why HITEC’s focus is on full-time, livable wage jobs that offer benefits.

“I agree that working part-time is not the highest economic outcome,” Barewicz said.

On the other hand, he said, it’s better than no job at all. Roughly 1.7 percent of Vermont’s workforce was considered long-term unemployed in 2013, according to BLS data that estimates the number of people out of work for 15 weeks or more.

“They talk about this new job market where it’s easier to get a job when you have a job,” Barewicz said. “At least they (part-time workers) have got a foothold on the economic ladder such that they’re looking to advance.”

Nonetheless, a disproportionately high level of under-employment is worth noting, Kavet said, not only as a business trend with financial and personal consequences for workers. It also could shed light on a worrisome inconsistency in the state budget.

He pointed to a disconnect in Vermont between employment and income. The issue emerged in April and May of this year, when the state’s collection of personal income taxes fell far below forecast. Kavet said he normally would expect the state to collect more income tax revenue at a time when the official unemployment rate is down to 3.3 percent.

The discouraged and part-time employment situation “has got to tighten up before you can really say the economy has improved,” Kavet said.

Hilary Niles


  1. Jamie Carter :

    This is a real problem. Whenever there is a good position that comes around there is a flood of applications from well seasoned and educated people. There is a tremendous amount of “under-employed” workers and that is making it extremely difficult for those that are unemployed or part timers to move up.

    We need to grow jobs but one of the main killers is the unknown… and the big one right now is single payer. Once businesses know what this is going to cost them they’ll figure out if its worth hiring more people or not, but as long as it’s completely up in the air no one will hire full time long term employees. Shumlin is screwing things up withholding information, all the while touting low unemployment. Low unemployment numbers doesn’t always mean a happy population. I hope Milne comes out with a serious financial plan, because it’s clear Shumlin doesn’t have one. So arrogant, democrat incumbent, Shumlin feels he is invincible. We can only hope that enough people educate themselves about the candidate and show Shumlin the door.

    We need to eliminate party affiliation, there are entirely too many voters that vote a party line without looking at the actual candidate… uninformed voters are killing our government.

    • Doug Hoffer :

      If the problem is unique to Vermont because of the move toward single payer, how do you explain the vast majority of states that have higher rates of under-employment?

      • Wendy wilton :

        Underemployment nationally has been linked to Obamacare. Therefore the woes of the nation’s unemployment problem have similar causes to Vermont. The law has encouraged employers to utilize more part time workers due to the cost of benefits including healthcare.

        • Pam Ladds :

          If you mean the ACA (Obama merely used a plan devised by Romney!) I agree it has problems. However, the jump to suggest underemployment linkage to “Obamacare” is a little bizarre. “Linkage” like the word “tendencies” implies fact when something barely exists. Underemployment was around way before the ACA, as was unemployment. There is no simple solution to this other than by changing the way businesses are run, national priorities are made and funding redirected from wars, corporate welfare and the prison industry .

          • Craig Powers :


            Please provide details on what your suggestions are for “changing the way businesses are run”. It would be wonderful to hear them.

        • John Fairbanks :

          Good Lord, is there any contortion the Right won’t bend itself into to blame America’s problems on Obamacare? You guys are gonna make the chiropractic industry rich.

        • John Greenberg :

          Wendy Wilton:
          “Underemployment nationally has been linked to Obamacare. ” By whom? Unemployment and underemployment were both considerably higher BEFORE Obamacare passed than after.

      • Bob Orleck :

        Jamie’s analysis is right Doug. It is the ‘gap” between the low “official rate” and the higher rate reporting unemployed + discouraged + marginally attached + part-time workers who’d prefer full-time work that is the big problem.

        Comparing both numbers separately it looks like Vermont fares well against the rest of the US but doing so gives a false sense of security. As the article pointed out if we were doing well as seems to be reflected by the low official rate of unemployment the tax collection would not be so far below expectations. The low official rate should translate to tax collections.

        The gap between those two indicators is much larger in Vermont that in the rest of the nation. The official rate gives Shumlin something to lie about and that is the health of Vermont’s economy. His leadership is bringing us to a critical level where both talented people and high paying employers like IBM want to get out and are leaving. I know of so many folks who are putting their houses up for sale because of the despair they feel.

        We should not vote party. Party means nothing anymore when it comes to such things. It is responsibility that we should be voting for. Governor Shumlin is an example of the new Democrat who is nothing like the old Democrats who cared not only for the overall health of the state but for the individuals. Our Governor has proven he is not one of our father’s Democrats and should be removed from office.

        One only needs to open their eyes when driving around Vermont to see that we as a State have lost control of the quality of our lives.. The roads are in atrocious condition, so many houses are in disrepair. They need so much care and maintenance that it is hard not to believe things will get even worse as the deterioration continues unabated. Not only are people unable to pay more taxes so tax collection is low but they can’t even afford to paint their home and fix it up.

        It is time for a “big” change.

        • John Greenberg :

          Bob Orleck:
          You write: “The gap between those two indicators is much larger in Vermont that in the rest of the nation.” Please cite the actual statistics which justify that statement.

          • John Greenberg :

            I wrote the comment above before reading the article (I thought I had already read it) and I see that they’re included above. Please ignore my comment.

      • David Dempsey :

        Uncertainty about future costs for health insurance is a big problem. Businesses can’t make big decisions about expanding in Vermont or leaving the state without knowing the costs of future health care insurance. To suggest otherwise is is politics, not reality.

  2. Steve Baker :

    Seems to me that we have one of the lowest rates of underemployed (9.1%) in the nation (well below the national figures), and the second lowest official unemployment rate (3.3%). And we are the only state on track for single payer healthcare (2017). The conclusion I draw from those facts is that moving towards single payer is good for our economy and for our working families (who have a basic human right to healthcare). Good work Vermont! Lets keep it up and get those numbers even lower, while providing healthcare to all.

  3. James Rude :


    Thank you for listing the six ways to slice unemployment…we typically do not see these distinctions reported or explained in the mainstream press. Even though U3 has been the “official unemployment rate” reported by the Federal Government, it is not the most meaningful data to show the actual number/percent of people out or work or who have had reduced hours. U6 reporting better represents the broad base impact of unemployment on the economy and is less prone to political manipulation than the U3 data…which is like reporting inflation while excluding food and gas prices.

  4. Paul Cook :

    As part of the U6, I have to take exception to commissioner Moulton’s comments about mismatched skills. The problem, commissioner. is that most employers have such a large pool of unemployed and underemployed to choose from that they can wait for the perfect match, a person with the exact experience and education they want. The idea that skills are transferable is a thing of the past. If you in and industry that is declining (higher education in my case), the view that skills are unique to that industry alone has left people like myself in the permanent unemployed/underemployed. “Mismatched” skills are in many cases a creation of employers too lazy or cheap to train anyone in their business.

    • The Commissioner is correct in pointing out the mismatched skills gap. Vermont HITEC has been bridging this gap for the past 15 years, launching from a 50 person business to over 800 employees today. Vermont HITEC educates and trains only when openings are available and guaranteed by the employer for example, we placed 30 unskilled Vermonters in $45,000 per year IT jobs; people are chosen only for aptitude-not experience and are educated and trained them in 8 weeks with a paid apprenticeship that follows. It can and is being done across many industries. Most employers are not lazy or cheap; they are simply not equipped to educate and train—that is after all yet another business to be born. Until education institutions adjust to meet the needs of employers, the gap will continue to exist. HITEC marries academics and specific job training together to provide the quality education that is needed in real time for today’s employers. Check out our website at

  5. Frank Davis :

    Ah yes, the battles over statistics. More than half always wins and more than half always loses. If we compare the current employment statistics gathered to the “old” statistics and they are gathered with the same criteria then they ARE comparable. If we compare Vermont’s employment statistics gathered to all of the other states’ statistics and they are gathered with the same criteria then they ARE comparable.
    If you create new criteria for Vermont, for now, then it is unreliable and invalid to compare it to anything elsewhere or in the past. BTW, I am usually employed part time but do not include as unemployed or underemployed because I am full time retired and not interested in full time employment. Therefore I am a reluctant, unwilling statistic.

  6. Curtis Sinclair :

    If anything I think a move to single payer healthcare would help the VT economy. From an interesting article in Forbes:”it makes nothing but dollars and sense for clever state governments to shift to a single-payer state healthcare system as the key driver for attracting business to their struggling domains.”
    VT should be finding money for its roads. A state needs good infrastructure to attract high paying tech jobs.

    • Jon Piper :

      and if your dumping all of your money into the “free health care” money pit where is that money going to come from? Oh, I know, all of those wind turbines producing energy far in excess of market rates that exist only by subsidies from the government that are being jammed down rural Vermonts throats.

  7. Vermont’s Unemployment Statistics – “The Numbers Game”!
    by H. Brooke Paige

    Governor Shumlin boasts that Vermont’s unemployment rate is now merely 3.4 percent – acting as if the he were somehow personally responsible for the improvement. Neither Shumlin, nor the news media that “carry his water”, bother to consider what the figure represents, where it came from or if it is truthful. The truth be told, they probably don’t know nor care!
    All of us have friends and neighbors who have lost their jobs and have yet to find new employment. Many have been forced to cobble together several part-time jobs, just to keep their “heads above water” until they are able to find a new full-time engagement. Some will never find another job in the profession in which they have training and experience.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Vermont’s Department of Labor (VTDOL) monitor a wealth of statistical factors which in combination represent the condition of labor in Vermont. There is no simple “unemployment rate” but a wide variety of factors that represent various aspects of the employment picture. The statisticians are not to blame for the confusion; rather it is the politicians that “cherry pick” the figures for those that place their political stars in the best light.
    The unemployment figure most frequently reported is the “U-3” rate a “middle-of-the-road” figure in a range of conditions from “U-1” through “U-6”. The combined figures, referred to as the “Alternate Measures of Labor Underutilization”, represent an expanding expression of the pool of unemployed.

    U–1 Represents persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force – 1.8 % in Vermont*

    U–2 Represents those in the “U–1”count plus persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force – 2.3 % in Vermont*

    U–3 Represents the total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force – 4.3 % in Vermont* (3.4% for April 2014)

    U–4 Represents the total unemployed “U-3” plus “discouraged workers” (persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them) as a percent of the civilian work force – 4.5 % in Vermont*.

    U–5 Represents those in the “U-4” count plus all other “marginally attached workers” (persons who were not in the labor force, but wanted and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months), as a percent of the civilian labor force – 5.2% in Vermont*.

    U-6 Represents those in the “U-5” count plus those employed part-time for economic reasons (also referred to as involuntarily employed part-time) as a percentage of the civilian work force – 9.1% in Vermont*.
    These figures do not include individuals who have been unemployed for over 24 months and have given up looking for work –currently about 8,000 Vermonters. In addition, the self-employed are not counted since they are ineligible for unemployment compensation and their work status is difficult to track by BLS or VTDOL.

    It is important to note that economists consider that unemployment rates (U-3) below 4% represent “full employment” taking into account at this level the unemployed are most probably: transitioning between jobs, training for advancement or on a voluntary hiatus from work.

    Another accurate measure of employment is the “Labor Participation Rate” (LPR), this figure represents the number of citizens over 16 years old who are employed as a percentage of the population. The most recent LPR figure (an average for the twelve months ending December 31, 2013) for Vermont was 68.5%, the inverse of which informs us that 32.5% or nearly 195.000 Vermonters were unemployed – a far different interpretation than the 3.4% or 11,200 represented by the U-3 figure. While this figure is mitigated to some extent by retirees, who are no longer in the work force, about 80,000 according to a recent study by AARP. That same study indicates that many Vermont seniors have found it necessary to forgo retirement for economic reasons – with 58.2% of men and 48.9% of women working beyond 65 here in Vermont.

    The unemployment figures do not provide a complete picture of the labor situation in Vermont. Data from the VTDOL indicate a continued decline in year-to-year figures in the “Goods Producing” employment sector. The number of employees in this sector fell by 2.7% or 1,200 to a total of 43,200. Earnings fell for each category: Construction jobs by -0.3%, Manufacturing by -1.3% and Durable Goods by 1.8% primarily as a result of a decline in available hours (Construction -2.5%, Manufacturing -1.1, Durable Goods -1.6%). The “Service Providing” sector employment increased by an feeble 1.1% or 2,400 to a total of 243,200 during the same period with a modest increase in earnings moderated by a .3% reduction in hours worked. The Government sector remained unchanged, however when Colleges and University employees and Social Assistants are included the total increased by 600 to a total of 78,600 (earnings and hours are not tracked for this sector).

    The governor brags how he has masterminded the creation of 11,000 new jobs during his three years in office; what he is aware, of but fails to mention, is that the state has lost 19,000 jobs during that same period – the net result is that 8,000 fewer Vermonters have jobs today than three years ago. Recent layoffs and closings announced by: Entergy (Vermont Yankee), Kennametal (Vermont Tap and Die), Plasan Carbon Composites (automotive), Vermont Flexible Tubing and even the venerable Keurig/Green Mountain (coffee) represent the loss of over 2,600 additional high paying Vermont jobs. The outlook over the next year is equally bleak as rumors fly of IBM’s intentions to relocate their Essex Junction operations to the mid-west (or upstate NY) and military downsizing will certainly result in reductions of the workforce at General Electric (jet engines) in Rutland.

    While Vermont’s labor picture is better than most of our neighboring states, the “rosy glasses” view of 3.4% unemployment, broadcast by Governor Shumlin, does not present a true picture by any common sense measure. Vermont’s continuing decline in “Goods Producing” jobs does not bode well for our economic future; while the increase in the Government – Education –Social Service sector jobs foretells of increasing burdens for taxpaying employees and employers. Reducing the tax burdens on employees and employers, while streamlining and simplifying regulations are far more important objectives for encouraging business and job growth rather than concocting short term “fixes” where the state attempts to pick business “winners” with special enticements financed by additional taxes on struggling Vermonters and Vermont businesses.

    A political humorist concludes a recent article with the punchline “Of course unemployment is down, they’ve all given up looking for work!” There are cruel ironies in the fact that those who profess to be concerned for the unemployed are broadcasting the news of “full employment” here in Vermont. Firstly, consider the unemployed Vermonters; who, for months or even years, have submitted endless job applications, went on numerous interviews and regularly attended “job fairs” –all in vain. The message that all-is-well on the job front must surely make these Vermonters, who are desperately seeking work, feel isolated, worthless and dispirited. Secondly, consider potential employers who are looking to relocate or establish a new venue for their business – surely the news of a small pool of able and willing workers in Vermont will discourage them from considering our state and in turn deprive Vermonters of new employment opportunities.

    *Vermont averages for the period 2013Q2 through 2014Q1

    The Vermont Department of Labor’s statistical data was used in developing this story. Readers may access “Economic and Labor Market Information” at: The AARP WORKFORCE PROFILES: VERMONT data used in this story is available in PDF format at:

    H. Brooke Paige, a writer and historian, is a regular contributor to the WASHINGTON WORLD where this article originally appeared in their May 21, 2014 edition. Brooke invites comments and criticism, he can be contacted at: P.O. Box #41, Washington, Vermont 05675 or [email protected] .

    • Frank Davis :

      Thank you Mr. Paige for suggesting that Vermont is failing because we are not trying solutions that less successful states are trying. Now that makes sense. BTW, while it is true that we all ” have friends and neighbors who have lost their jobs and have yet to find new employment. Many have been forced to cobble together several part-time jobs, just to keep their “heads above water” until they are able to find a new full-time engagement. Some will never find another job in the profession in which they have training and experience.” It is also true, that I know of many in the same situation in other states. I have been there myself, in Vermont and many decades ago when I resided in other states. On a personal basis it is worthy of understanding. On a policy basis the track taken must be the best possible without repeating our own or others’ bad policy. BTW, I think that Mr. Paige should be announced as more than,” a writer and historian, is a regular contributor to the WASHINGTON WORLD.” He was also an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2012. Whose campaign was based on replacing our embarrassing congressional delegation.

    • Doug Hoffer :

      Mr. Paige said, “Vermont’s continuing decline in “Goods Producing” jobs does not bode well for our economic future.”

      Actually, this is a national problem not unique to Vermont. Here is the percentage change in manufacturing jobs for various states from May 2007 to May 2014.

      -1.9% WA
      -7.2% SC
      -8.8% IN
      -11.6% KY
      -12.7% VT
      -13.8% NH
      -14.5% ME
      -15.1% TN
      -15.2% MO
      -15.4% MA
      -17.8% NC
      -19.3% NY

      All of these states (and most others) show large losses of manufacturing jobs. Therefore, any effort to suggest that specific Vermont policies are the cause of the problem cannot be supported by the facts.

  8. participate in a facebook online debate for governor, and post your questions and comments for the candidates;

  9. Keith Stern :

    Is there any study of discretionary money per capita by state? That would be a very telling piece of data.

    • Haley Mathis :

      Thank you for bringing up discretionary income, since I think something important to consider when viewing local unemployment statistics is the cost of living versus income. Many in Vermont, myself included, may be employed but still unable to make ends meet without some sort of financial assistance. The unemployment statistics don’t even begin to tell the story of folks who are almost better off unemployed than they would be working part-time or even full-time jobs (with or without basic benefits) at minimum wage. Perhaps we would better understand the relatively low unemployment rate versus the low income tax collection if we incorporated information about how many of the employed are still eligible for the Earned Income Credit and other revealing income to cost-of-living statistics. In my opinion, these employment statistics – yes, sadly used by incumbent politicians like Shumlin to boost popular opinion – represent a very limited view of the state of affairs in our fair state.



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