Broader unemployment rate hits 17.5% as companies get smarter about staff

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The weekly blizzard of economic statistics makes it tough to figure out what is really going on. But with a near-record number of people unemployed or underemployed, productivity at very high levels, and pay rising for the people who still have jobs, one conclusion seems to jump out: Companies are getting smarter about who they keep, how they manage the keepers, and who they fire.

Let's look at some of the numbers. The New York Times reports that what I would call wasted workers -- the combination of unemployed who are still looking for work, discouraged workers who have given up looking, and part-time workers seeking full-time jobs -- has hit a record 17.5%. This beats the previous record of 17.1% set in the midst of the Paul Volcker-led recession of 1982. (Then-Fed Chair Volcker's recession resulted from his decision to raise interest rates up to 20% to break the back of inflation.)