Employment numbers don't reflect underemployed numbers

September 2, 2011 7:31:32 PM PDT
A troubling report emerged on Friday on the nation's jobless picture. The U.S. Department of Labor says the economy lost as many jobs as it created in August, keeping the unemployment rate at 9.1 percent.

It is the weakest report in almost year and it comes on the same day of a new survey, showing that only 43 percent of people who became unemployed between September 2008 and august 2009 have found new full or even part-time jobs. That report came out of Rutgers University. It's helping to coin new term for these testing economic times. We have the employed, the unemployed, and now the underemployed.

The Montclair District of Oakland isn't exactly Main Street, USA. It seems prosperous, at first glance.

When asked how many people have applied for a job opening at a yogurt shop, manager Julia Craig said, "Only about five and I have had it up for a week."

But even Craig would say to look deeper in this shadowy economy. At the yogurt shop, Raquel Saldana works in back of the shop and is a mother of two who fits the definition of underemployed. When the coffee shop in which she worked closed, Saldana had to take two jobs.

"In the one job I work 16 hours. In this job, I work 16 hours," said Saldana.

It's a bit misleading. Yes, Americans are working, but not as much and not making as much, and changing careers to do so.

"We're both middle-aged rookies," said Bill Murphy.

Murphy and Doug Drews made good livings in real estate before the economy collapsed. Both were out of work for more than a year. Now they're learning a business on an upswing -- mortgage brokering.

When asked if he ever thought he would start a new career at 58 years old, Drews said, "No. No. Now, my boss, and mentor if you will, is 36 years old. It seems like I was 36 just yesterday."

"I think the realization you have to keep retraining yourself is huge," said Murphy.

Both men say they expect to make more money in these jobs than they did in their old ones, but they would be the exceptions these days.

"I feel lucky that I found a job. I'm fearful... there's nothing to be able to put away for savings. My car is 10 years old this year and I need to buy a new car," said pharmacist assistant Kate Anthenien.

Anthenien represents realty. She used to be a caterer. Now she's a pharmacist's assistant making 70 percent of what she used to without benefits. This is a job she had to take, one that still leaves her on a bubble if the economy sours again.

"I am scared of being laid off again," said Anthenien. And when asked what unemployment would mean to her, she said, "Well I used up a year of unemployment and you have to rebuild unemployment status."

She, like many Americans run the risk of going back on unemployment, not that they want to. Many remain for the moment under-challenged, underpaid, and underemployed.

When asked what she thought was wrong with our economy, Anthenien said, "I don't know. Somebody better find out fast, though."

For the record, the name of that report is hardly reassuring. They call it "Out Of Work and Losing Hope." And yes, the investigators did time its release for the Labor Day weekend.

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