The country is worried about jobs and sees unemployment as worse than statistics show

February 12, 2021, 6:30 PM UTC

Though the January jobless rate is lower than it was as the COVID-19 pandemic began, most Americans still describe joblessness as a “very serious” national problem. In the latest Economist/YouGov poll, most also think that it is actually higher than the 6.3% the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week.

Less than one in five know the correct unemployment rate, now between 6% and 7%. Half (53%) put it higher than that, while less than one in ten think it is lower. Most distrust the rate and believe there are more people out of work than the government reports. Three in five (63%) believe there are more unemployed people than the government numbers show, and just 16% believe the statistics are accurate.

Even more of those who have had a family member (or themselves) lose a job because of the coronavirus pandemic believe the statistics don’t tell the whole story. Two-thirds (69%) who have been personally impacted perceive the unemployment numbers as higher than indicated.

Despite that, most Americans would rather pay attention to the jobless indicators than to any other measure of the health of the economy. Overall, nearly half (46%) say the jobless rate is the best economic indicator, followed by prices (selected by 23%) and a respondents’ personal finances (10%). The stock market is last, chosen by only 5%. Just 6% of those who own stock think of the market as the best economic indicator. Like the rest of the public, they put unemployment in first place.

But there is skepticism about any measure. How good a job does the unemployment rate do explaining the health of the economy? One-third (34%) say the national unemployment rate does a “fair” job explaining the actual health of the national economy. Three in 10 (30%) describe it as a very good or good measure, while 22% call it poor or very poor. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between February 6 - 9, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.0% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty