The unemployment rate was at its lowest level in six years, 5.8 percent, according to the latest jobs report. But Americans aren’t convinced that things are nearly that good.
In a recent Ipsos-MORI poll,1,001 Americans were asked, “Out of every 100 people of working age, how many do you think are unemployed and looking for work?” Their average response was 32. That’s almost 26 percentage points higher than the 6.1-percent jobless rate in August, when the poll was conducted.
Americans are way, way off here. But they aren’t alone. Here’s how other countries’ average estimated unemployment rates stack up to their actual unemployment rates:
To be fair, it’s possible that question wording matters here…though “out of work and looking for work” is the most broadly used definition of unemployment, people may be also considering their discouraged-worker friends who have given up the search. Still, even when you include discouraged and other marginally attached workers, even the broadest definition of unemployment in August was only 12 percent.
But moreover, unemployment is still a big problem, and those high guesses may reflect that. The job market is simply painful for many Americans right now, so to many people, it really might feel like the jobless rate is much higher.
This all doesn’t just matter because people are off. It matters because the degree to which people perceive problems guides how they make political decisions. (Not that Congress has been doing much about boosting jobs, as Ezra Klein wrote earlier this year.)