Jobless rate is 10.8% - or really higher?

Barnwell County's unemployment rate decreased throughout 2013, but a closer look at the numbers may provide insight on why.
In December, the county's jobless rate was 10.8 percent - third highest in the state - according to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce. But looking at the figures for December is not the most reliable method to discern actual unemployment levels since the holiday-shopping season brings with it an increase in the hiring of temporary workers. And figures published by DEW are not seasonally adjusted at the county level to reflect this.
South Carolina DEW gets its job data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS uses data collected by a monthly survey of 60,000 households across the country conducted by the Census Bureau - it's called the Current Population Survey.
To be counted as employed, a person must be 16 years old or older, and worked for pay or profit during the survey week. This includes part-time and temporary work, as well as regular full-time, year-round employment. An individual who works at least one hour during the survey week is counted as employed.
To be counted as unemployed, a person must be 16 years old or older and have no job at all during the survey week. However, that person must be able, available, and actively looking for work.
So, if someone worked just one hour at a job during the survey week then that person is counted as employed. And if someone doesn't have a job but isn't looking for work then that person doesn't count as unemployed.
The size of the labor force is the sum of the numbers of employed and unemployed. The unemployment rate is determined by dividing the number of unemployed people by the number of people in the labor force. The size of the labor force is an important figure when talking about the unemployment rate.
When determining the unemployment rate at the county level, the BLS uses data from the Current Population Survey and other sources - census population figures and unemployment insurance filings for example - to estimate the size of the labor force and the number of employed and unemployed people. The final numbers are estimates and not precise figures. The BLS is constantly revising its estimates to produce more accurate numbers.
Let's look at the unemployment data for Barnwell County for the past three Novembers.
For 2011, 2012 and 2013, the unemployment rate dropped from 15.1 percent to 13.6 percent and then down to 11.4 percent. The number of unemployed dropped from 1,275 to 935 in that same period. But the number of employed people increased by just 68.
Doesn't add up, you say. Well, let's look at that all important labor-force figure.
The reason for the low increase in actual employment and a sharp decrease in the jobless rate can be explained by looking at the size of the labor force. In November 2011, Barnwell County's labor force was estimated at 8,448 people. In November 2013 it fell to 8,176.
Where did those 272 people go?
The phrase you hear all the time on the news describing such a situation is: They fell out of the labor force.
What does that mean? Well, those people could have: retired, moved out of the county, died or simply stopped looking for work. People who give up searching for work because of a bad economy are called "discouraged workers," and they don't count toward the unemployment rate.
And, of course, when you add Barnwell's labor-force losses (272) to the number of new jobs (68) you get 340 - which is the total drop in the number of unemployed for the two-year span we're looking at.
If we assume those 272 people are all discouraged workers and add them back into the labor force and count them as unemployed, we get a November 2013 unemployment rate of 14.2 percent for Barnwell County.
In fact, the BLS does produce a national unemployment figure that takes into account "discouraged workers" and those people who are working part time but want full-time work. That figure was 13.1 percent in December - almost double the 6.7 percent that was widely reported.