Gallup Finds Unemployment Climbing to Nine Percent in February

Matt Cover | February 20, 2012 | 4:28pm EST
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A man looking for work stands on a street corner in Portland, Maine. (AP)

( – Unemployment in the U.S. rose to nine percent in mid-February, up from 8.3 percent a month earlier, according to a new Gallup survey. The polling company said this suggests that it is “premature” to assume the economy will not feature prominently in the 2012 election season.

Gallup figures typically provide an indication of what the government will report at the end of the month.

“The U.S. unemployment rate, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment, is 9.0% in mid-February,” Gallup said in its mid-month unemployment survey, released on February 17. “The mid-month reading normally reflects what the U.S. government reports for the entire month, and is up from 8.3% in mid-January.”

Gallup said the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would likely report a rise in the official unemployment rate in early March, when it publishes its February figures.

Gallup’s mid-month figures are not seasonally adjusted, and so may not predict the official unemployment rate precisely. However, because Gallup and BLS both conduct their unemployment surveys at the same time – in the middle of the month – Gallup’s early figures can provide a barometer of where the official rate is likely headed.

“Gallup’s mid-month unemployment reading, based on the 30 days ending Feb. 15, serves as a preliminary estimate of the U.S. government report, and suggests the Bureau of Labor Statistics will likely report on the first Friday of March that its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased in February,” Gallup said.

The survey also found that “underemployment” – those unemployed and those working part-time because full-time jobs are unavailable – rose to 19 percent, up from the 18.7 percent Gallup found in January.

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Gallup said its report reflected a continuing trend of weakness in U.S. labor markets, marking a “sharp deterioration” in job market conditions.

“Regardless of what the government reports, Gallup’s unemployment and underemployment measures show a sharp deterioration in job market conditions since mid-January.”

That decline was consistent with an economy struggling with weak growth and rising energy prices, Gallup said, making it “premature” to think that the economy would not be a major factor in November’s presidential elections.

“Further, it suggests that it is premature to assume the condition of the economy will not remain a major issue for Americans both financially and politically in 2012.”

Gallup’s survey is a random telephone tracking survey of 30,000 adults conducted through February 15, whereas BLS’s survey is done over one week in the middle of each month and surveys 60,000 households. BLS adjusts its results for seasonal changes in the job market – regular changes in the labor market that occur every year and aren’t reflective of the demand for labor or the supply of available jobs, such as temporary hiring around the holiday shopping season.

Since Gallup’s figures are not seasonally adjusted, the 0.7 percent rise in unemployment tracked in its survey almost certainly includes some of the seasonal factors that typically contribute to unemployment after the holiday shopping season.

Nonetheless, Gallup predicted that BLS would find an increase in unemployment in February.

“Although the government seasonally adjusts the U.S. unemployment rate, and the workforce participation rate could decline – both of which could drive down its unemployment rate – it still seems likely that the BLS will report an increase in the seasonally adjusted U.S. unemployment rate for February.”

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