October 20, 2012 2:00 PM
LYNNEA LOMBARDO, Staff Writer

David Murphy worked as an independent contractor at the Fort Irwin military base in Barstow for 13 years before the economy slowed down and the jobs stopped coming.

Today, Murphy, who holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, is unable to repay his student loans, says he has almost completely drained his savings and has dipped into his 401K.

“I stay home with our kids now, and my wife works,” said Murphy, who lives in Hesperia. “Being unemployed sucks. It sucks.”

Murphy is among a growing group of High Desert residents who, for the time being, have essentially given up looking for work. And when that segment of the population is factored into the local unemployment rate, the percentage of High Desert residents without jobs mimics the national rate seen just before the peak of the Great Depression.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has six measures of unemployment. The most commonly seen measure, called U-3, is defined as the total number of unemployed people in the civilian labor force. That includes Americans who have jobs or are seeking a job, are at least 16 years old, are not serving in the military and are not institutionalized.

Nationally, the U-3 unemployment rate dipped to 7.8 percent for September, after months of being above 8 percent. California’s rate fell to 9.7 percent, while the High Desert’s U-3 unemployment rate dropped to 13.7 percent.

“We know that the unemployment rate is actually 5 to 7 percent higher than that,” said Sandy Harmsen, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board of San Bernardino, which oversees the High Desert Employment Resource Center in Victorville.

At worst, an additional seven point increase would place the unemployment rate in the High Desert at nearly 21 percent. In Adelanto, which has an unemployment rate of 17.2 percent, a seven point increase would top the rate off at 24.2 percent.

In the two years following the stock market collapse in 1929, unemployment during the Great Depression went from 3 percent to a peak of 24.8 percent in 1933.

So while some experts are celebrating the recent drop in the reported number of people out of work, others are urging caution because they believe the unemployment rate less accurately reflects reality in bad economic times.

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