Since November 2010, the unemployment rate has tumbled from 9.8% to 8.9% in February. That seems to signal a return to healthy job growth. But is it real?

While unemployment has fallen nearly a full percentage point, just 407,000 payroll jobs have been created — a mere 0.3% rise.

How can that be? Maybe it's because the real jobless rate — which includes those unemployed Americans so discouraged they've stopped looking — is higher than 8.9%. Much higher.

"Though the official unemployment rate is improving, according to our poll, we still have at least 20% of able Americans looking for full-time employment," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, IBD's polling partner. "Jobs will be the No. 1 issue in the next presidential election."

Americans assume the Bureau of Labor Statistics' unemployment rate is an indicator of the job market's health. But as with other government data, it's notable as much for what it doesn't reveal as for what it does.


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